Western officials said Russia was tightening its noose around the embattled town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization warned that the start of a new major Russian offensive was now underway.
Defense ministers from NATO member countries met on Tuesday to discuss providing further support to Ukraine, including ramping up production of munitions and other military aid in NATO countries as the Russian invasion enters its one-year day approaches.
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Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its intelligence update on Tuesday that Russia had made further progress north of Bakhmut in an effort to encircle the town after months of brutal fighting there, but it said a tactical push south was likely to have made little progress .
Russia has brought thousands of new troops into Ukraine in recent weeks, although Kiev claims it has repelled advances along multiple axes. But since Russia announced a mobilization in September, the labor differential has gradually turned in Russia’s favor, allowing Russia to make small gains and putting Ukraine in a vulnerable position in Bakhmut.
The UK said Russian forces had received orders to advance along most axes but had not built up enough combat capability to produce decisive results anywhere along the front line.
Western and Ukrainian officials have in recent weeks warned of a major Russian offensive aimed at breaching Ukrainian lines to the east and south, coinciding with the first anniversary of the war on February 24.
A Ukrainian main battle tank near Kupyansk in eastern Ukraine.
Photo: yasuyoshi chiba/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A woman carries a sack of firewood in the Kherson region of Ukraine.
Photo: NACHO DOCE/Portal
“I think the reality [is] that we’re already seeing the beginning,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Monday, saying Russia has brought huge amounts of manpower into the fight. “We see them sending more troops, more weapons, more skills to try and pressure the Ukrainians.”
Mr Stoltenberg said there was a need to provide Ukraine with more weapons that could help it bolster its defenses and stage its own offensives to retake lost territory. “The faster we can deliver weapons, ammunition, spare parts and fuel to the Ukrainian front, the more lives we save,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.
Ukraine’s military on Monday banned aid workers and journalists from entering Bakhmut without special permission in advance, as fighting in the region intensified and risks to civilians increased.
Earlier this month, Pete Reed, an American who served as a frontline volunteer medic, was killed while providing aid in Bakhmut. Family and friends of Mr Reed, a 33-year-old ex-Marine, said he was killed in the city when a Russian shell hit the vehicle he was traveling in.
Ukraine is trying to persuade the West to supply it with F-16s, modern fighter jets capable of flying at twice the speed of sound. Here’s how the planes compare to Russia’s Soviet-designed planes and the difference they could make in war. Figure: Adam Adada
Meanwhile, the Russian government on Tuesday dismissed claims that it plans to stage a coup in neighboring Moldova, part of which has been occupied by Moscow since the early 1990s.
The allegations made by Moldovan politicians on Monday are unfounded and part of a coordinated effort by Ukraine and the West to draw the small, impoverished nation into conflict with Russia, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Tuesday.
“We firmly deny the insinuations of Russia’s alleged desire to undermine the situation in Moldova,” said Ms. Zakharova. “Unlike Western countries and Ukraine, we do not interfere in the internal affairs of Moldova and other countries of the world.”
Write to Matthew Luxmoore at [email protected] and Bojan Pancevski at [email protected]
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