June 5, 2023

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Ukraine hails gains in Bakhmut as Zelensky wins more arms in Europe

  • Zelensky visits London after Rome, Berlin and Paris
  • Kiev gains in the northern and southern suburbs of Bakhmut
  • The leader of Belarus said that four planes were shot down over Russia

KIEV/LONDON (May 15) (Reuters) – Ukraine on Monday hailed its first major battlefield advances in six months as President Volodymyr Zelensky won pledges of new long-range drones in Britain, adding more Western weapons for a counteroffensive against Russian invaders. .

Since last week, the Ukrainian military has begun pushing Russian forces into and around the besieged city of Bakhmut, in its first major offensive operation since its forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson in November.

“The advance of our forces along the Bakhmut direction is the first success of offensive operations in the defense of Bakhmut,” Colonel General Oleksandr Sersky, commander of the ground forces, said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

“The past few days have shown that we can go ahead and destroy the enemy even in such very difficult circumstances,” he said. “We are fighting with fewer resources than the enemy. At the same time, we are able to spoil his plans.”

In its evening battlefield update Monday, the Ukrainian Army’s General Staff said Russian forces were pressing efforts backed by heavy bombardment to gain ground but had failed to advance around the village of Ivanevsky on the city’s western outskirts.

The Battle of Bakhmut has become the longest and bloodiest of the war and is of great importance to Russia, which has no other prizes to show in a winter campaign that has claimed thousands of lives.

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For the past half year, Kiev has been on the defensive while Moscow has waged its campaign, sending hundreds of thousands of fresh reservists and mercenaries into Europe’s bloodiest ground battle since World War II.

Kiev is now preparing to launch a counterattack using hundreds of new tanks and armored vehicles sent by Western countries since the beginning of this year, with the aim of recapturing a sixth of the Ukrainian territory that Moscow claims to annex.

Zelensky met British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Monday, the latest stop on a tour that has taken him to Rome, Berlin and Paris over the past three days, winning major new weapons pledges along the way.

Britain, which last week became the first Western country to supply long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, followed that up during Zelensky’s visit on Monday with a pledge of drones that could strike at a range of 200 kilometres.

Sunak’s government also said it would soon start training Ukrainian pilots to fly combat aircraft.

‘pivotal moment’

A Ukrainian soldier gives water to a captured Russian soldier, they say, at a position recently gained in an offensive, as the Russian offensive into Ukraine continues, near the frontline town of Pakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 11, 2023. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty / Serhii Nuzhnenko via Reuters

Zelensky described the new weapons pledged by the Europeans as “important and powerful”.

In a video address from a train he was taking back to Kiev later on Monday, he said, “We will come home with new military assistance. Newer, more powerful weapons for the front, more protection for our people. Greater political support…”

Sunak said the war was at a “pivotal moment” and Britain would remain steadfast in supporting Ukraine. “It’s important that the Kremlin also knows we’re not leaving. We’re here for the long haul.”

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The Kremlin said it did not believe the added British equipment would change the course of the conflict, which it described as a “special military operation” on its part to eliminate security threats posed by Kiev’s pursuit of ties with the West. Kiev and its Western backers describe Russia’s actions as an unjustified land grab.

Ukrainian forces forced Russian forces back from the capital Kiev a year ago, retaking territory in two major offensives in the second half of 2022, but have since come under harsh Russian attack while waiting for the weapons to arrive.

Ukrainian officials are generally silent about the details of their offensive operations as they unfold, but have reported significant territorial gains in both the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut over the past seven days.

Moscow admitted its retreat north of the city, and the commander of Wagner’s private army fighting inside Bakhmut said that the Russian regular forces fled from their positions on the northern and southern sides.

Ukrainian officials portray the fighting in that area as a local advance, rather than a major counter-offensive that they say has yet to begin.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday inadvertently confirmed a reputable Russian media report that four Russian military aircraft were shot down near the borders of Belarus and Ukraine while preparing to attack targets inside Ukraine.

He spoke while visiting the Air Force command base in Belarus, according to the Pul Pervovo Telegram channel, a Belarusian state outlet that reports on Lukashenko’s activities.

Lukashenko was quoted as saying “Three days after the events close to us – I mean in the Bryansk region, when four planes were shot down, we had to fight back. Since then, we, our troops, have been on high alert.”

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There was no official response from Ukraine, which usually refuses to comment on reports of attacks inside Russia. But Mykhailo Podolyak, one of Zelensky’s top advisers, called the incident on Saturday “justice … and instant karma.”

Belarus is a close ally of Russia, which used it as a springboard for an invasion of Ukraine, although Lukashenko insisted Belarus was not a party to the war and had not sent troops to fight alongside Russian forces.

Written by Peter Graf. Editing by Mark Heinrich

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