Ukraine live updates: Sweden wants in NATO; McDonald’s to exit Russia – USA TODAY

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After over 200 years of being a nonaligned nation, Sweden will join neighboring Finland in applying for membership in NATO, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced Monday.

Andersson called it “a historic change in our country’s security policy” as she addressed lawmakers in the Swedish capital.

“We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance,” she said. “Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO.”

Also Monday, McDonald’s said it has started the process of selling its Russian business, which includes 850 restaurants that employ 62,000 people. It is the latest corporation to announce a withdrawal from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The fast food giant temporarily closed its stores in early March but still paid employees. On Monday, pointing to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, it said owning a business “is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values.”

It now seeks to have a Russian buyer hire its workers and pay them until the sale closes. McDonald’s opened in 1990 in what was then the Soviet Union.

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Latest developments:

►Sweden’s defense minister is meeting Monday in Washington with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Nordic nation’s Defense Ministry announced.

►Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office said Sunday that 227 children have died and over 400 have been injured since the invasion began.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., along with fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming visited Sweden and Finland on Monday, following a weekend in eastern Europe.

“It was a special honor to visit both these strong, proud nations during the exact days when both countries’ governments were concluding their deliberations and preparing to formally move forward with joining NATO,” McConnell said in a statement issued Monday as the group returned to the States.

McConnell said the nations’ applications for NATO membership had his support. 

The senators met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday.

Belarus has deployed forces, including special operations and air defenses, to the border of Ukraine, possibly in an effort to keep Ukrainian troops occupied there, so they cannot fight Russians in the Donbas region, according to a new assessment from the British Ministry of Defense on Monday. 

“Despite early speculation, to date Belarusian forces have not been directly involved in the conflict,” the ministry stated on Twitter.

Belarus served as a staging area before Russia’s invasion in February. Moscow continues to use Belarus as a launchpad for missile strikes and sorties.

“Belarusian President Lukashenko is likely balancing support for Russia’s invasion with a desire to avoid direct military participation with the risk of Western sanctions, Ukrainian retaliation and possible dissatisfaction in the Belarusian military,” the ministry said.

– Katie Wadington

STOCKHOLM — Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Monday told her country’s parliament that she sees “a historic change in our country’s security policy line” as the country prepares to seek membership of NATO.

“Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO,” Andersson said during a parliamentary debate, adding that the country was acting together with neighboring Finland.

The debate is expected to be a formality as there is a clear majority of lawmakers in favor joining NATO. Sweden is expected to formally seek membership in the 30-member military alliance later Monday.

The move in Sweden, which has been outside military alliances since the Napoleonic Wars, came after Finland on Sunday announced that it, too, would seek to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“Sweden is best defended within NATO,” Andersson said. “Unfortunately, we have no reason to believe that the trend (of Russia’s actions) will reverse in the foreseeable future.”

– Associated Press

UKRAINE WAR EXPLAINED: Evacuations, accusations and denials: Key events in Russia’s war in Ukraine in 5 graphics

Almost three months after shocking the world by invading Ukraine, Russia’s military advancement in Ukraine is “losing momentum” and “not going as planned,” according to NATO officials.

“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters in Berlin. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”

Top NATO diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, met Sunday in Berlin to discuss added assistance to Ukraine.

While Moscow lost ground on the diplomatic front, Russian forces also failed to make territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine said it held off Russian offensives in the east, and Western military officials said the campaign Moscow launched there after its forces failed to seize the capital, Kyiv, has slowed to a snail’s pace.

From nearly the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has teased the use of a nuclear weapon. 

But most political scientists, nuclear arms experts, Western officials and seasoned Kremlin watchers say it’s highly unlikely he would detonate a nuclear weapon to break an impasse over Russia’s stalled offensive in Ukraine, now in its third month. 

“If the conflict in Ukraine essentially remains an overt one between Russian and Ukrainian forces, with the West playing more of a proxy role, if we stay where we are today in terms of Western involvement in the conflict, I see no likelihood at all,” said Dmitri Trenin, until recently director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. 

Read more on Putin’s strategy here. 

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Ukraine live updates: Sweden wants in NATO; McDonald’s to exit Russia – USA TODAY

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