Ukrainian counter-offensive takes shape with first gains around Bakhmut

Russia’s defence ministry claimed a long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive had begun, pointing to intensifying assaults in japanese Ukraine over the previous 48 hours.

The ministry mentioned on Friday that Ukraine had launched 26 assaults alongside a 60-mile stretch of the frontline close to Bakhmut and the close by city of Soledar, involving greater than a thousand troops and as much as 40 tanks. It conceded that Russian troops had redeployed to “extra advantageous” positions in some areas however mentioned it had stopped Ukrainian forces from making any breakthroughs.

Kyiv denied that its counter-offensive was underneath manner, saying it was nonetheless conducting defensive operations in an space that has featured fierce preventing for a number of months.

“What is going on now? Enemy troops are advancing within the east in a number of instructions. We’re defending,” mentioned Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar. “Defensive measures embrace not solely defence within the literal sense, but additionally counter-attacks.”

She added that Russian forces had been pushed again greater than a mile from positions on the southern flank close to Bakhmut, marking Kyiv’s most important territorial acquire across the metropolis in months.

Some analysts have cautioned it might be arduous to establish the beginning of Ukraine’s counter-offensive amid skirmishes and probing efforts by Kyiv’s forces to establish weak spots in Russian traces.

However Konrad Muzyka, an unbiased defence analyst and director of Rochan Consulting, which tracks the battle, mentioned on Friday he was “now nearly sure” the counter-offensive was underneath manner, citing the Bakhmut assaults.

Publicly, Ukrainian officers have been cautious when talking about when and the way the counter-offensive is to proceed.

However Russian navy bloggers appeared to corroborate that Ukraine had made positive aspects, saying Kyiv’s troops had pushed Russian forces again from a vital street and retaken territory north of the city.

Following Russia’s lack of floor close to Bakhmut in latest days, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, mentioned he believed a counter-offensive was now in “full swing” and complained that Moscow was not doing sufficient to cease it.

“Sadly, in some locations they’re profitable,” Prigozhin mentioned in an audio message revealed on Telegram. “All of the models which have acquired the mandatory coaching, weapons, gear, tanks, every thing else — they’re already absolutely engaged.”

He later posted a video, saying of the Russian navy: “There was no tactical retreat . . . what occurred was outright flight.”

The preventing in and round Bakhmut — as soon as house to greater than 70,000 individuals however now nearly destroyed — has been waged by a mix of Russian common forces and Wagner fighters.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy advised the BBC this week that Ukraine nonetheless wanted “a little bit extra time” to permit extra of the promised Western navy assist to reach earlier than Ukraine begins the counter-offensive.

Among the many weapons for which Kyiv remains to be ready are armoured automobiles, together with primary battle tanks. Zelenskyy mentioned they’re arriving in batches.

An individual with information of Ukraine’s counter-offensive preparations mentioned the president’s message might have been supposed to press western companions to hurry extra weapons to Kyiv, or to handle expectations about battlefield advances, and even as a feint to attempt to throw off Moscow.

“You may say we’re shaping up [the battlefield],” mentioned the individual, talking on situation of anonymity to debate delicate issues.

Ukraine attacked a number of targets in occupied territories final week, together with Crimea and oil storage services in addition to railway traces in Russia itself.

Russian forces have tried for greater than 10 months to seize Bakhmut, pouring troops and arms into what has been the longest and bloodiest battle since Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The White Home mentioned final week that Russia has suffered 100,000 casualties, together with greater than 20,000 killed — lots of them in Bakhmut — since December.

Prigozhin has blamed Russia’s defence ministry for the deaths of 1000’s of his troopers and the failure to grab the entire metropolis.

In video-recorded tirades on Telegram, he has criticised defence minister Sergei Shoigu and different navy leaders for “sit[ting] like fats cats and do[ing] nothing” whereas his fighters are being slaughtered. He additionally accused Shoigu of withholding artillery shells.

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