(CN) — Cracks are appearing in Ukraine's defenses in the eastern part of the country as Russian forces continued to make advances on Thursday and hundreds of additional Ukrainian soldiers surrendered at Azovstal, a steelworks plant in Mariupol that has been under siege for weeks.
Despite assertions from Kyiv and its Western allies that Russia is losing the war in Ukraine, there are signs that Russian forces are breaking down Ukraine's forces in the battlefields of Donbas, an eastern region the Kremlin is determined to conquer after it failed to seize Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city.
There also are cracks appearing in the West's resolve to stand up to Russia. On Thursday, Turkey repeated its objections to the admission of Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance, accusing them of supporting Kurdish rebels. Turkey has been in a years-long conflict with Kurdish separatists.
Croatia's president, Zoran Milanovic, also said he would seek to block the entry of the Nordic countries, according to news reports. He said he would back their entry into the alliance only if changes are made to the election system in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he alleges Croats do not get fair representation.
In addition, plans by the European Union to impose an embargo on Russian crude oil this week continued to be torpedoed by Hungary, which said it cannot do without Russian supplies. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the past has been close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, Western efforts to arm Ukraine with heavy weapons appears to be lagging and unease and anger is growing in the West over soaring inflation caused by the war.
On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is facing serious food shortages due to the war. Ukraine and Russia are major grain and fertilizer suppliers.
Speaking at a U.N. meeting in New York City, Guterres said the war, climate change and the problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic could “tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity” and he warned of “malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years.”
Ukraine's potential troubles in the war have been underscored by videos showing hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steelworks surrendering.
On Thursday morning, the Russian defense ministry said 771 Ukrainian soldiers, including at least one top commander, laid down their arms over the previous 24 hours, according to Tass, a Russian state news agency. In all, Russia said 1,730 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered at the plant.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, said the new soldiers who surrendered were members of the Azov Regiment, a far-right militia that was incorporated into the Ukrainian national guard.
Capturing the Azov fighters, considered some of Ukraine's best-trained, represents a big win for the Kremlin, which accuses the Azov Regiment of harboring “Nazis.” In launching the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said “de-Nazifying” and “demilitarizing” Ukraine were his main goals.
Russian sources claimed that an Azov deputy commander named Svyatoslav Palamar, a soldier known by his call sign “Kalina” who made videos about the state of fighting in Mariupol, was among those who surrendered. He and other Azov fighters reportedly were placed in custody at a prison in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Russia will likely put Azov fighters on trial for alleged war crimes. However, late Thursday, Ukraine state media released a video of Palamar claiming he was still in the Azovstal plant along with other commanders.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-declared independent republic of Donetsk, said more than half of the fighters inside the steelworks have surrendered. Mariupol lies within the boundaries of the Donetsk region and served as a key port city for the region before the outbreak of war.