March 2. 2024. 2:52

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Ukraine vows to strengthen Bakhmut’s defence and find killers of ‘executed’ soldier

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed to strengthen efforts to repel Russia’s invasion force from the eastern city of Bakhmut and pledged to achieve justice for a captured soldier who was apparently executed by Moscow’s troops after shouting “Glory to Ukraine!”

Poland said on Tuesday it would deliver 10 more German-made Leopard tanks to Kyiv’s military this week, while China hailed its deepening ties with Russia, chided the United States for arming Kyiv and warned of possible “conflict and confrontation” with the West.

Intense clashes continued around the ruined city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s partly occupied Donbas area, where the opposing armies are not only fighting for territory but trying to degrade the attack potential of the enemy ahead of spring and summer battles.

Mr Zelenskiy reported that after discussing Bakhmut with Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi and the commander of its ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, both said “do not withdraw, and reinforce. And this opinion was unanimously backed [by other senior officials].”

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“I told [Gen Zaluzhnyi] to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut. There is no part of Ukraine that we could just agree to relinquish,” he added.

“Bakhmut has yielded and is yielding one of the greatest results of this war, of the entire battle for Donbas… We are defending and will continue to defend every part of Ukraine. When the time comes, we will liberate every city and village of our country.”

[ Bakhmut: a ghost town of high symbolic importance to Kremlin and Wagner mercenary group ]

Russia’s attack on Bakhmut is being led by the Wagner mercenary group, which comprises a core of well-armed and experienced military veterans supplemented by thousands of convicts recently recruited from jail, whom Ukraine says are being used as “cannon fodder”.

“The battle of Bakhmut may, in fact, severely degrade the Wagner group’s best forces, depriving Russia of some of its most effective and most difficult-to-replace shock troops,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in its daily briefing.

“The opportunity to damage the Wagner group’s elite elements, along with other elite units if they are committed, in a defensive urban warfare setting where the attrition gradient strongly favours Ukraine is an attractive one.”

An unidentified Nato official told CNN this week that alliance intelligence reports suggest Russia is now losing five times as many fighters as Ukraine around Bakhmut.

However, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Ukraine’s rate of losses was rising and that 11,000 of its soldiers were killed in February alone.

“The ‘liberation’ of [Bakhmut] continues,” he said on Tuesday. “This city is a major defence line for Ukrainian troops in Donbas. Control of it will help [Russia] develop a further offensive deep into the Ukrainian army’s defences.”

[ Life on Ukraine’s front lines: this is what trench warfare is like ]

Kyiv said it had identified an unarmed Ukrainian soldier who shouted “Slava Ukraini!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”) before being shot dead by Russian-speaking gunmen in a video that was posted online. He was named as Tymofiy Shadura, who went missing during fighting near Bakhmut last month.

“We will find the murderers,” Mr Zelenskiy vowed.

Polish defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced that “four [Leopard tanks] are already in Ukraine, another 10 will go to Ukraine this week” and said Warsaw was “ready to launch a service hub in Poland, which will deal with the repair and service of Leopard tanks delivered to Ukraine”.

Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang hailed deepening Beijing-Moscow ties as a source of global stability and queried why “the US asks China not to provide weapons to Russia while keeps selling arms to Taiwan?”

“If the United States does not hit the brakes but continues to speed down the wrong path … there will surely be conflict and confrontation,” he warned.