| 18 April 2024, Thursday |

NATO allies weigh more arms for Ukraine as Russian artillery batters Bakhmut

In what appeared to be the first salvos of a fresh onslaught, Russian forces barraged Ukrainian troops and towns close to the front lines in the eastern Donetsk region on Tuesday as Western allies gathered in Brussels to discuss supplying the Kyiv administration with more weapons.

The city of Bakhmut, which is located in the Donetsk region and was one of the main targets of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion force, was in a critical situation.

According to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, “There is not a single square meter in Bakhmut that is safe or that is not in range of enemy fire or drones.”

He said Russian artillery was hitting targets all along the front lines in Donetsk, which along with Luhansk province makes up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland and a major objective for the Russians.

With the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion nearing, the Kremlin has intensified operations across a broad swathe of southern and eastern Ukraine, and a big new offensive has been widely anticipated.

Before a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Western countries needed to increase ammunition supplies to Kyiv.

“We see no signs that President Putin is preparing for peace. What we see is the opposite, he is preparing for more war, for new offensives and new attacks,” he told reporters.

Ukraine has also appealed to the West for fighter jets.

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday its forces had repelled attacks in five settlements in Luhansk and six in Donetsk, including around Bakhmut, over the past 24 hours. They had also beaten back an attack on a town in the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia in northeast Ukraine, it said.

Britain said on Tuesday mercenaries from the Wagner group, who have spearheaded the Russian assault on Bakhmut, had made small gains in the northern outskirts in the past three days but an advance to the south seemed to have made little progress.

A regional road and rail transport and logistics hub, Bakhmut has endured months of shelling and many districts are in ruins. Only about 5,000 civilians are left there out of a pre-war population of about 70,000, Governor Kyrylenko said. Troops have fortified positions in anticipation of street fighting.

Authorities hope to reduce the number of people there to a minimum and will try to evacuate the wounded, he said.

Bakhmut’s capture would provide a stepping stone for Russia to advance on two bigger cities in Donetsk – Kramatorsk and Sloviansk – and give Moscow new momentum after months of setbacks following its invasion last Feb. 24.

The acting head of the Russian-installed administration in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said Ukrainian troops were entrenched in Bakhmut but Russian forces were making headway.

“We understand very well that there is no prospect that the enemy will just give up there and leave their positions without a fight,” Pushilin said on Russia’s state-run Channel 1.

“We don’t see that yet, and our guys really have to do the impossible at times in order to dislodge the enemy from their entrenched positions, but we see progress nevertheless.”

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner, said that Russian forces would not soon be able to take the town. Prigozhin claimed in a post on the Telegram channel that Ukraine was bolstering with up to 500 fresh fighters per day.

“Bakhmut won’t be captured tomorrow due to strong opposition. The mincer is operational “explained Prigozhin. “The fiercest combat is occurring in the north (of Bakhmut). In the northern regions, there is no justification for surrounding the adversary.”

  • Reuters