Ukraine could become part of the European Union in a matter of weeks, the president of the European Commission said Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed Ukraine’s application to join the EU in February, and Olga Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, said in April she expects Ukraine to fully join the E.U. by June.
The process can take years, but European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Ukraine’s membership could take only weeks to consider.
“Yesterday, somebody told me: “You know, when our soldiers are dying, I want them to know that their children will be free be and be part of the European Union,” von der Leyen said. “They are in an extraordinary situation, where we have to take unusual steps.”
Ukrainians “belong to our European family, without any question,” she said.
LATEST VISUAL EXPLANATIONS: Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
► Ukraine’s border guard agency says about 2,200 Ukrainian men of fighting age have been detained so far while trying to leave the country in violation of martial law. The agency said Sunday that some of them have used forged documents and others tried to bribe border guards.
► Ukraine is investigating the involvement of about 500 Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, in 5,600 possible war crimes, Irina Venediktova, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, said Sunday.
► Authorities in the region that includes Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, Dnipro, say the airport was hit twice by missile attacks on Sunday.
Ukrainian forces are pushing back Russian troops so successfully that the invaders have been forced to regroup, refit and refocus, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday.
“Russia has changed its behavior in this war,” Sullivan said on CBS News’ Face The Nation. “They have retreated. They have pulled back from substantial territory in northern and northeastern Ukraine. Chiefly the reason they made those adjustments is because they were beaten by the Ukrainians.”
Sullivan credited the Ukraine military — and the flow of equipment the U.S. and its allies have been sending the besieged country. Last week, he said Slovakia was able to send an S-300 air defense system because the U.S. was willing to provide a Patriot battery to replace the system Slovakia was giving away.
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov earlier told Newsweek the West is provoking Russia.
“We warn that such actions are dangerous,” the envoy said. “They can lead the U.S. and the Russian Federation onto the path of direct military confrontation.”
Moscow has appointed a new war chief after a largely unsuccessful six weeks of battle in Ukraine, a senior U.S. official said Sunday.
According to the official, who is not authorized to be identified and spoke on condition of anonymity, said General Alexander Dvornikov has a history of brutality against Syrians and other civilians. Dvornikov, 60, one of Russia’s most experienced military officers, will be the first central war commander on the ground in Ukraine.
But U.S. officials don’t seem to be worried about the new appointment.Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said: “No appointment of any general can erase the fact that Russia has already faced a strategic failure in Ukraine.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday thanked a small number of Ukrainian troops who were departing the United States after training to operate patrol boats and kamikaze drones, the latter among the latest military technology sent to fight Russian invaders, the Pentagon announced. The Ukrainian contingent, whose size the Pentagon has not disclosed, took part in a long-standing training mission that began Feb. 24, the day Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine.
The mission was extended to include training on Switchblade drones, which stay aloft long enough for operators to locate enemy positions or armored vehicles and then crash into them and explode.
Austin thanked the Ukrainian troops by video conference on their final day at the U.S. Navy’s base at Little Creek, Va., Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday for talks, two days after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. Nehammer told the Austrian Press Agency he hopes to promote dialogue between the countries and will address Putin’s “war crimes” in Ukraine.
Nehammer’s plans drew immediate fallout in Ukraine. The deputy mayor of Mariupol, Sergei Orlow, told the German outlet Bild that the meeting was not appropriate.
“The war crimes that Russia is currently committing on Ukrainian soil are still taking place,” he told Bild. “I don’t understand how to have a conversation with Putin at this time, how to do business with him.”
In response to mounting losses, the Russian armed forces are trying to bolster troop numbers by bringing back veterans discharged from the military over the last 10 years, according to an assessment from the British Defense Ministry. Efforts to generate more fighting power also include trying to recruit from the Moldovan separatist Transnistria region, the ministry said.
The assessment was released one day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, promising a new package of financial and military aid for Ukraine’s “struggle against Russia’s barbaric campaign.”
“The Ukrainians have the courage of a lion,” Johnson tweeted. “President @ZelenskyyUa has given the roar of that lion. The UK stands unwaveringly with the people of Ukraine.”
Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is looking to “reset” the alliance and have member states increase their defense spending, he told the Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom.
“What we see now is a new reality, a new normal for European security,” Stoltenberg said. “Therefore, we have now asked our military commanders to provide options for what we call a reset, a more longer-term adaptation of NATO.”
Stoltenberg said not all NATO members are spending 2% of their gross domestic product on national defense and would like to see them meet that threshold. He pointed to a plan by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to increase defense spending by 100 billion euros over the next two years to get to 2% of GDP.
“With the size of the German economy, this really makes a huge difference also for NATO’S total defense spending,” he said.
Ukraine would not be struggling to defend itself against Russia’s onslaught if Ukraine had been allowed to join NATO more than a decade ago, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Sunday on Meet the Press. He said a “strategic mistake” was made by Germany and France in 2008 when they rejected efforts by the U.S. and other allies to bring Ukraine into the defense alliance.
“If we were a member of NATO, this war wouldn’t take place,” Kuleba said. “The strategic mistake is something that we are paying for. It’s not Germany or France that are paying the costs for this mistake. It’s Ukraine.”
He credited the U.S. with doing “more than any other country in the world to provide us with necessary weapons” but said weapons need to come faster. All the parties spend too much time discussing whether Ukraine should be given offensive versus defensive weapons, he said.
Retired four-star general and former CIA director David Petraeus said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union that onlookers should expect “more of what we have seen” now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned over military operations in Ukraine to Gen. Aleksandr Dvornikov.
Dvornikov led military forces in Syria, where the Russian military was known for “depopulating” areas, Petraeus said. He said the missile strike on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed dozens was the first major operation under Dvornikov’s leadership. Petraeus said the war is now focused in the Donbas region in the east and parts of the south. He said if the Russian military can take over land outside of the separatist states in the Donbas region and grab some land north of Crimea, Putin can spin the success as a win.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir Klitschiko appeared Sunday on ABC This Week and said the country needed weapons to continue fighting the Russians, even as the war with the nuclear power is changing.
“Weapons support is very, very important for us in this critical time – and we see who are the real friends of Ukraine,” Vitali said.
“We cannot defend our country with our fists,” Wladimir Klitschiko said.
He said Russia pulling out of Kyiv did not end the war, but changed where it is being fought. He said fighting continues in the south and the east. “We are expecting Russian military forces being back and targeting the capital of Ukraine.”
Wladimir Klitschiko also said the second thing the country needs is for the western world to continue to isolate Russia economically. “Every cent and every trade that you do with Russia … they’re using for weapons to kill us,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told Fox News Sunday that a move at the top of the Russian military operation in Ukraine is a sign of more “brutality” to come.
“The reports were seeing of a change in military leadership and putting a general in charge who was responsible for the brutality and the atrocities we saw in Syria shows that there’s going to be a continuation of what we’ve already seen on the ground in Ukraine, and that’s what we are expecting,” Psaki said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has named Army Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, to oversee the war, media outlets have reported. He has been described as the “Butcher of Syria,” having led brutal campaigns in that country. The Kremlin’s acknowledgement last week of casualties in the war was unexpected, Psaki added.
“Rarely do they acknowledge from the Russian leadership, any elements of weakness or any elements of defeat,” she said.
The Defense Ministry of Ukraine said Russia has lost over 19,000 troops and thousands of pieces of military equipment in 46 days of war. The ministry posted its tally to Twitter early Sunday.
Ukraine listed Russia’s human toll at about 19,300 personnel. The ministry calculated Moscow’s military equipment loss at 1,384 vehicles, 722 tanks, 1,911 armored vehicles and seven watercraft. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told British media on Thursday that Russia had experienced “significant losses of troops.” On Friday, he pointed to the official defense ministry tally of 1,351 soldiers dead.
In late March, NATO estimated that Russia may have lost as many as 15,000 troops, and up to 40,000 killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
The number of people who have streamed out of Ukraine since war broke out on Feb. 24 has risen to over 4.5 million, the U.N. reported Sunday.
The U.N. refugee agency reported on its data site the higher number, which originates from a number of sources, but mainly border crossing points.
Nearly 2.6 million of those refugees have arrived in Poland, followed by over 686,000 in Romania. As many as 404,000 have arrived in Russia since war broke out, according to the figures. The agency notes many refugees may have moved on to other countries, beyond the neighboring country into which they initially crossed.
Contributing: The Associated Press