Code: 1229972 A

The Kremlin warned about taking retaliatory “military-technical” steps after Finland’s leaders came out in favor of applying to join NATO, and Sweden could do the same within days, in a historic realignment triggered by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the first war-crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the start of the conflict was set to open Friday in Kyiv. A 21-year-old captured member of a tank unit is accused of shooting to death a civilian during the opening week of the war.

On the ground, Russian forces pounded areas in central, northern, and eastern Ukraine, including the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, as part of their offensive to take the industrial Donbas region, while Ukraine recaptured some towns and villages in the northeast, AP reported.

Two and a half months after Russia’s attack on Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through Moscow’s neighbors, Finland’s president and the prime minister announced on Thursday that the Nordic country should apply right away for membership in NATO, the military defense pact founded in part to counter the Soviet Union.

While the country’s Parliament still has to weigh in, the announcement means Finland is all but certain to apply —and gain admission— though the process could take months to complete. Sweden, likewise, is considering putting itself under NATO’s protection.

That would represent a major change in Europe’s security landscape: Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.

Such an expansion of the alliance would leave Russia surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic and would amount to a stinging setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had hoped to divide and roll back NATO in Europe but is instead of seeing the opposite happen.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance would welcome Finland and Sweden with open arms.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that Moscow “will be forced to take retaliatory steps of military-technical and other characteristics in order to counter the emerging threats to its national security.”

“There is always a risk of such conflict turning into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for all,” said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council.

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