March 4. 2024. 8:44

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Russian forces attack Ukrainian positions amid reports of new offensive

Russian forces attacked Ukrainian positions and shelled towns in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, as Kyiv chided US tycoon Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm after it said it had moved to stop Ukraine’s army from using its internet service to control drones on the battlefield.

Ukrainian officials said Moscow’s troops shelled the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia regions on Thursday, and reported continuing battles near the eastern towns of Bakhmut and Vuhledar and increased Russian military activity elsewhere near the front line, amid predictions of a new Russian offensive.

“Russian forces have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive in Luhansk [region],” the US-based Institute for the Study of War said in its latest update of the battlefield situation.

“The commitment of significant elements of at least three major Russian divisions to offensive operations in this sector indicates the Russian offensive has begun, even if Ukrainian forces are so far preventing Russian forces from securing significant gains.”

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Ukrainian commanders and officials say the Kremlin is preparing for a major new offensive, probably in the east and south of their country, which could start sometime around February 24th, one year after Russia’s began an all-out invasion of its neighbour.

“Cross-country mobility is likely to be at its worst, with extremely muddy conditions, over mid- to late-March. Commanders on both sides will highly likely seek to avoid scheduling major offensives at such times,” Britain’s ministry of defence said in its daily intelligence update on the war.

“However, perceived political or operational opportunities can override such concerns, as demonstrated by Russia launching its invasion in late-February 2022.”

Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, told a conference in Washington that the firm had provided its Starlink satellite internet service to Ukraine to help its people and vital services remain online following Russia’s invasion.

“It was never intended to be weaponised, however ... The Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” she said, before later referring to reports that Kyiv’s military was using the service to run battlefield drones.

“There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that ... There are things that we can do, and have done,” she added, without giving details.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, tweeted in response: “A year of Ukrainian resistance and companies have to decide: Either they are on the side of Ukraine and the right to freedom, and don’t seek ways to do harm. Or they are on Russia’s side and its ‘right’ to kill and seize territories. SpaceX (Starlink) and Mrs Shotwell should choose a specific option.”

Russia will increase production of “various armaments including modern tanks” in response to Western supplies of tanks and other heavy weapons to Ukraine, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday.