Russian forces are bombing Ukraine’s Bakhmut in a new major offensive, NATO chief says

By Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – The eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut suffered heavy artillery fire on Monday as the NATO chief supported reports by local officials that a major new Russian offensive had begun days before the first anniversary of the Moscow invasion.

Ukrainian defenders, who have been holding out for months, are prepared for fresh ground attacks, Ukrainian military officials said.

The positions in Bakhmut have been fortified and only people with military function are allowed in, said a deputy battalion commander. Any civilians still wanting to leave the city would have to brave the incoming fire, he said.

Bakhmut is a key target of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his capture would give Russia a new foothold in the Donetsk region and a rare victory after several months of setbacks. The Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the Donbass, Ukraine’s industrial heartland now partially occupied by Russia, which wants full control.

“… The reality is that we have already seen the beginning (of a Russian offensive) because we are now seeing what Russia is doing now – President Putin is doing it now – is sending in thousands and thousands more troops and doing a very to accept high casualty rate,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

The Russian attack on Bakhmut was led by Wagner Group mercenaries, who made small but steady gains. The renewed Russian bombings aggravated the situation there even more.

“The city, the city’s suburbs, the entire perimeter and essentially the entire Bakhmut direction and Kostyantynivka are under crazy, chaotic shelling,” said Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Svoboda Battalion.

Nazarenko said that although there was no fighting in the city center, the defenders were prepared for any attack.

“The city is a fortress, every position and every street there, almost every building, is a fortress,” he said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its troops advanced a few kilometers along the frontline, without specifying where.

The Ukrainian military reported Russian shelling all along the front and said 16 settlements near Bakhmut had been bombed. It said its forces repelled attacks near Bakhmut as well as attacks in the Kharkiv, Luhansk and Zaporizhia regions over the past day.

NATO wants to discuss further aid

Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai and Ukraine’s Donetsk Governor recently stated that a predicted Russian offensive had begun. Haidai said Russian troops attacked Bilogorivka from all sides before dawn on Monday.

He said on Monday: “Preparations for this offensive are already underway, the amount of shelling, airstrikes and small group attacks has already increased. We’re waiting for them to launch massive attacks 24/7.” Haidai

Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield reports.

The United Nations Human Rights Office said on Monday that since the invasion of Russia on February 24 it has claimed 7,199 civilian lives and 11,756 wounded, mainly from shelling, missile attacks and airstrikes. However, he believed the actual number was far higher.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 in what it calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” the country and protect Russian speakers. Western leaders say it was nothing more than a land grab.

Moldova’s president on Monday accused Russia of using foreign saboteurs to bring down its leadership and using them in the war against Ukraine. Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria has survived three decades with support from Moscow.

President Maia Sandu spoke after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that his country had uncovered a Russian intelligence plan “to destroy Moldova”. Days later, the government of the country bordering Ukraine and Romania resigned.

Putin’s forces failed early in the invasion to capture the Ukrainian capital using neighboring Belarus as a base, and the conflict has since turned into a war of attrition that has left entire cities in ruins.

As Ukraine is desperate for more weapons, the defense ministers of several NATO countries allied with Kiev will meet in Germany on Tuesday to discuss possible further military aid.

Ukraine says it needs fighter jets and long-range missiles to counter the offensive and retake lost territory.

NATO’s Stoltenberg said he expected the issue of the planes to be discussed but that Ukraine needed support on the ground now.

A NATO source said it would increase ammunition stockpiling targets as Kiev burns through shells much faster than Western countries can produce.

“Ukraine’s current rate of ammunition expenditure is several times higher than our current production rate,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, many NATO countries were missing the alliance’s ammunition stockpile targets, as wars of attrition with large-scale artillery were officially a thing of the past.

But the pace of supplies to Ukraine, where Kiev’s troops are firing up to 10,000 artillery shells a day, has exhausted Western stockpiles.

A European diplomat told Reuters: “If Europe were to fight Russia, some countries would run out of ammunition in a matter of days.”

(Reporting by Max Hunder, Olena Harmash, Tim Heritage, Pavel Polityuk, Bart H. Meijer, and Charlotte Van Campenhout; Writing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie; Editing by Sharon Singleton, Alison Williams, Alex Richardson, and Cynthia Osterman)


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