March 4. 2024. 6:42

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Fighting intensifies for ruined city of Bakhmut as Kremlin seeks major battlefield gain

Fighting intensified for the ruined city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine as Russian president Vladimir Putin told his country’s FSB security service to tighten control over the border between the warring neighbours and prevent “scum” from destabilising his country.

Moscow-installed officials in occupied parts of Donetsk region said Russian forces were pushing into Bakhmut, which has been at the epicentre of fighting in eastern Ukraine for several months as the Kremlin seeks its first major battlefield gain since last summer.

“In the Bakhmut direction the situation is getting more and more difficult. The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions...and ensure defence,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who held a meeting on Tuesday with his military’s top brass, senior security officials and government ministers.

Mr Zelenskiy said they “reviewed the overall operational situation and the likely nature of the enemy’s actions in the near future...They also reviewed the state of supplying the defence forces with ammunition and equipment, the progress of training of Ukrainian servicemen abroad, and the needs of the defence forces.”

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He also urged western allies again to provide his forces with “modern combat aircraft to protect the entire territory of our country from Russian terror. Air defence is complete only when it is backed by aviation – modern aviation.”

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, described the situation around Bakhmut as “extremely tense”, and said Russia’s Wagner mercenary group was using its “best-prepared assault units” to try to “break through the defences of our troops and surround the city”.

In Moscow, Mr Putin told officers of the FSB – which he led before becoming Russian president in 2000 and after serving in the KGB during the Soviet era – that there had been “losses in our ranks” since he launched a full invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

“The Russian-Ukrainian section of the state border should be under the special control of the FSB border service...And your task is to block the path of sabotage groups, to stop attempts to smuggle arms and ammunition on to the territory of Russia,” he said.

“It is necessary to uncover and stop the illegal activities of those who are trying to split and weaken our society, using separatism, nationalism, neo-Nazism and xenophobia as weapons,” added Mr Putin, who claims that “neo-Nazis” control democratic and pro-Western Ukraine.

“This has also always been used against our country. Now there are the most active attempts, of course, to activate all this scum on our land.”

Mr Putin spoke hours after officials in several Russian regions said drones had been brought down by air defences or had crashed while flying towards infrastructure facilities.

One drone came down about 100km from Moscow, and the main airport of Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city, temporarily halted all departures and arrivals due to what some reports said was drone activity in the area.

Television and radio stations in some Russian regions also abruptly started broadcasting air-raid alerts, which are a daily occurrence across Ukraine. “As a result of the hacking of servers of radio stations and television channels...information about the announcement of an air-raid alert was broadcast. This information is false,” Russia’s emergencies ministry said in a statement.

Anti-government activists in Belarus said on Monday they had used drones to badly damage an advanced Russian surveillance plane parked at one of the country’s airfields.

Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko flew to Beijing on Tuesday as Western states said they suspect China is considering whether to deliver arms to Russia, and warned that any such move would have serious diplomatic and economic consequences.