Kiev on Sunday refuted Russian claims it had taken more territory around Bakhmut as Russia seeks to encircle the eastern city that Ukraine’s military has been defending against devastating attacks for months.
The Wagner Group paramilitary force fighting alongside Russia’s regular army in Ukraine said on Saturday it had gained control of Yahidne, northwest of Bakhmut. Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin’s press office posted an image showing Wagner fighters next to a sign marking the entrance to the village, and Mr Prigozhin confirmed that the village had been taken.
On Sunday morning, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces appeared to deny the claims, without specifically commenting on the photo posted by Wagner. It named Yahidne one of six settlements, including Bakhmut, where Russia has launched failed offensives in the past 24 hours.
Russia’s control of Yahidne would put further pressure on the Ukrainian forces defending Bakhmut in the face of a gradual Russian advance aimed at encircling the city from the north, south and east, at great cost to the army and Wagner’s army of recruits and prisoners. mercenaries.
Ukrainian soldiers in the city, bombarded daily by Russian artillery and still home to some 5,000 civilians, spend much of their time seeking shelter in cellars between missions to man positions in the eastern districts, only a few hundred meters from Russian troops. Block-to-block combat is rife, with both sides suffering heavy casualties.
Ukrainian and Western officials had warned of a major Russian offensive in the east ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, but no major Russian breakthrough came. Instead, Ukraine has continued to probe Russian positions and strengthen its defenses as it pushes the West for more weapons and prepares for its own spring offensive.
Major General Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said in an interview with German media on Sunday that a Ukrainian spring offensive would likely include an attempt to enter Russian-held territory in the south, crossing a Mariupol land bridge. by cutting. to the Crimea that Russia excised from Ukraine in the first months of the war.
Major General Skibitsky said the campaign is likely to involve Ukrainian attacks on ammunition depots on Russian territory, including in the Belgorod region, from where many attacks against Ukraine are launched. “We will not stop until we return our country to the borders of 1991,” he said, referring to the year when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine gained independence from Moscow.
A southward attack by Ukraine, threatening territory that Russia has buttressed with various fortifications, would strain Russia’s control of Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014 and has since used as a staging post for attacks on Ukraine. The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that Russia was building further fortifications in Crimea and would deploy dozens of conscripts to carry out the work.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has insisted since the beginning of the war that Ukraine will not stop fighting until it regains all the land it has lost to Russia since 2014. He reiterated that in a social media post on Sunday marking the ninth anniversary of the start of Russia’s military intervention in Crimea.
“By returning Crimea, we will restore peace,” he said. “This is our country. Our people. Our history. We will bring the Ukrainian flag back to every corner of Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of staunch Russian ally Belarus, is expected to visit China this week for talks with top officials in Beijing between February 28 and March 3. The trip comes amid a flurry of diplomacy surrounding the anniversary of Ukraine’s war. . China’s top diplomat Wang Yi visited Russia this week, around the same time that President Biden made a surprise trip to Kiev.
The visits also come as tensions grow over the possibility of increased Chinese involvement in the war in Ukraine. US officials say China is considering supplying Moscow with artillery, drones and possibly other weapons to help Russian troops stave off an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive. Beijing has responded by saying that the US and its allies are the largest sources of weapons flowing to the battlefield.
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said during an appearance on CNN on Sunday that the US had made it clear to Beijing through high-level private communication channels that there would be dire consequences if China continued to supply arms to Russia. He declined to share what those consequences would be.
“They know that going all in with Russia in this war in Ukraine would alienate a significant number of countries with whom they are working hard to maintain good relations,” Sullivan said. “Beijing will have to make its own decisions about how to proceed, whether to offer military resistance, but if it goes down that path, it will really cost China — and I think the Chinese leadership will take that into account when making their decisions. ”
—Dustin Volz contributed to this article.
Write to Matthew Luxmoore at email@example.com
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