April 13. 2024. 6:02

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Ukraine says army preparing for offensive despite ‘insane’ Russian attacks in east

Ukraine has said its military is preparing to relaunch offensive operations while also resisting “insane” pressure from Russian forces around the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut.

Bakhmut has been Russia’s main target during several months of fierce fighting led by its Wagner mercenary group, as Moscow seeks its biggest battlefield success since last summer in a push for full control of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which the Kremlin claims are now part of its territory along with Kherson and Zaporizhzia provinces to the south.

“The most difficult situation is still Bakhmut and the battles that are important for the defence of the city… Russia does not count people at all, sending them to constantly storm our positions. The intensity of fighting is only increasing,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“I thank all Ukrainian warriors who, despite this insane pressure from the occupier, are defending our positions and destroying the Russian army.”

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The Wagner group has supplemented a well-equipped core force of experienced veterans with tens of thousands of convicts recruited from jail on a promise of a pardon if they survive the battlefield.

“The Ukrainian military is deploying additional troops and trying with all its might to keep control of the city,” said the group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin. “Tens of thousands of Ukrainian army fighters are putting up fierce resistance, and the fighting is getting bloodier every day.”

Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Mr Zelenskiy, did not rule a potential withdrawal from Bakhmut to ensure Ukrainian troops did not become trapped there.

“Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options. So far, they’ve held the city, but if need be, they will strategically pull back. We’re not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing,” he told CNN.

“If we were to pull back, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Russians would be able to advance very quickly, afterward. Make no mistake, our counter-offensives will be around the corner soon.”

Mr Zelenskiy repeated calls for western allies to accelerate and expand the delivery of heavy weapons to his forces, with the success of Ukraine’s defence in the east and the timing of its planned spring counteroffensive largely dependent on how quickly new arms – including Leopard tanks – and ammunition arrive.

“We are preparing for the return of our warriors to actions for the liberation of our land. We keep in mind this just goal of ours, and every day we are getting closer to its fulfilment. Ukraine will be free. All of Ukraine,” he said.

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had prevented a “mass drone attack” by Ukraine on the Crimean peninsula that the Kremlin annexed in 2014, by shooting down six “strike drones” and bringing down four others with electronic countermeasures.

Several Russian regions reported on Tuesday that drones allegedly launched by Ukraine had crashed before striking their intended targets, including one that came down only about 100km from Moscow.

“Ukraine doesn’t strike at the Russian Federation’s territory. Ukraine is waging a defensive war to de-occupy all its territories,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr Zelenskiy, wrote on social media.

“Panic and disintegration processes are building up in the Russian Federation, reflected by an increase in internal attacks on infrastructure facilities by unidentified flying objects.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response: “We don’t believe them.”

Russia last month halted participation in its last nuclear arms control pact with the United States – known as the New Start treaty – and its deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday: “Until the United States changes its behaviour, until we see signs of common sense in what they are doing in relation to Ukraine, we see no chance for the decision to suspend New Start to be reviewed or re-examined.”