April 14. 2024. 6:46

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Russian fighters claim to control half of Bakhmut

Russian fighters claimed to control about half of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, as Nato warned that the ruined city might soon fall to Moscow’s forces and urged Western states to intensify production of ammunition that is vital to Kyiv’s troops.

Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov met EU counterparts on Wednesday, and said he would seek ammunition, air defence systems and armoured vehicles to prepare for a planned spring counter-offensive against Russia’s invasion force.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, said its units now occupied the eastern section of Bakhmut, but Ukraine’s military said its troops were continuing to repel attacks in the city and prevent Moscow’s forces from encircling it.

“What we see is that Russia is storming in more troops, more forces and what Russia lacks in quality they try to make up in quantity. They have suffered big losses, but at the same time we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days,” said Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

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“It is also important to highlight that this does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war and it just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia,” he said, urging Nato states to step up arms manufacture for Kyiv and for their own stocks.

“The current rate of consumption compared to the current rate of production of ammunition is not sustainable. Therefore, we need to ramp up production. I welcome that the European Union is stepping up and Nato allies are stepping up,” Mr Stoltenberg added.

He spoke on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defence ministers in Stockholm, at which they discussed groundbreaking proposals to purchase weapons and ordnance jointly, and speed up supplies of much-needed ammunition to Kyiv.

“The number one priority is air defence systems, as well as ammunition, ammunition, and, once again, ammunition,” Mr Reznikov said before the talks began.

He backed a proposal from Estonia for EU states to collectively buy one million 155mm calibre shells for Ukraine, and said Kyiv also sought “infantry fighting vehicles … and more tanks … and we will be ready for the counter-offensive.”

The Swedish presidency of the European Council said on Wednesday that member states at ambassador level had “approved an additional €2 billion to the European Peace Facility”, which the bloc uses to fund military aid. “This decision sends a clear signal of the EU’s enduring commitment to military support for Ukraine and other partners,” Sweden added.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he proposed spending €1 billion on buying ammunition, particularly 155mm shells, from member states for urgent delivery to Ukraine.

As he welcomed United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres to Kyiv, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country was now “at the forefront of not just a struggle but a real war for all the principles on which international life is based”.

“Right now it is Ukraine that is defending the goals and principles of the UN Charter. Hence it is now and in Ukraine that the future of the UN and the global role of the United Nations are being decided.”

Both men said it was essential that a deal to allow Ukrainian ports to export grain via the Black Sea is extended when it comes up for renewal on March 18th, eight months after it was brokered by the UN and Turkey to lift a Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian ports.

“I want to underscore the critical importance of the rollover of the Black Sea grain initiative,” Mr Guterres said. “Exports of Ukrainian – as well as Russian – food and fertilisers are essential to global food security and food prices.”