| 17 April 2024, Wednesday |

Zelenskiy orders Ukraine to strengthen northern defences

Following the entrance of Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in Belarus, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gave top military commanders an order on Friday to bolster Ukraine’s northern military sector.

At a meeting of senior military and political figures, he claimed, Ukrainian intelligence and security agencies had provided an update on Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor.

“The decision…is for Commander-in-Chief (General Valeriy) Zaluzhnyi and ‘North’ commander (General Serhiy) Naev to implement a set of measures to strengthen this direction,” Zelenskiy said on the Telegram messaging app.

He did not mention Wagner Group boss Prigozhin in the brief post on Telegram.

Prigozhin flew from Russia into exile in Belarus on Tuesday under a deal negotiated by President Alexander Lukashenko that ended his mercenaries’ mutiny in Russia on Saturday.

Media have reported that Wagner could set up a new base at a vacant military facility near the town of Asipovichi, about 90 km (50 miles) from the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

After pushing Russian forces out of northern regions last year, Ukraine took steps to tighten the defence of its border with Belarus, a close ally of Russia.

“Right now, there is no direct threat of offensive actions from Belarus and Russia in the zone that is the responsibility of the Northern Group of Forces,” Naev said.

But he said moves to strengthen Ukraine’s defence capabilities were needed in the event of a growing threat, and added: “Our intelligence does not stop work to obtain information.”

Zelenskiy said the situation in other frontline areas, supplies of artillery and shells, and advances by Ukrainian troops against Russia’s occupying forces were also discussed at Friday’s meeting.

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said earlier on Friday that Ukrainian troops were advancing in all directions of the counteroffensive they began against Russian forces this month.

“If we talk about the entire frontline, both east and south, we have seized the strategic initiative and are advancing in all directions,” she told Ukrainian television.

“In the south, we are moving with varying success, sometimes there are days when it is more than a kilometre, sometimes less than a kilometre, sometimes up to 2 kilometres,” she said.

Reuters was unable to verify the situation on the battlefield. Russia, which began its full-scale invasion in February 2022, has not acknowledged the Ukrainian gains and has said Ukraine’s military are suffering heavy casualties.

  • Reuters