Russian Offensive in Eastern Ukraine
On Wednesday, Russia declared it had broken through two fortified Ukrainian defence lines on the eastern front, with Kyiv describing conditions there as difficult. Western allies announced more military aid including artillery rounds to Ukraine in response. The Russian Defence Ministry said Ukrainian troops had retreated in the face of Russian attacks in the Luhansk region, though this could not be independently verified. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said Kyiv’s forces had repelled some Russian attacks in Luhansk, but the situation remained difficult. Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai stated that Russia was pouring heavy equipment and mobilised troops into Luhansk. In Kyiv, the capital’s military administration said six Russian balloons, which may have contained reconnaissance equipment, were shot down over the city.
The Kremlin has intensified attacks across a swathe of southern and eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, and a major new offensive has been widely anticipated. Russia’s main effort has been focused on the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk Province adjacent to Luhansk. Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi reported fierce battles being fought in Bakhmut. The Ukrainian military also said its units had repelled Russian attacks in the areas of over 20 settlements including Vuhledar—a town 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Bakhmut. If Bakhmut is captured, it will give Russia a stepping stone to advance on two bigger cities, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk.
Ukraine is using shells faster than the West can make them and says it needs fighter jets and long-range missiles to counter the Russian offensive and recapture lost territory. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said alliance members were increasing production of 155mm artillery rounds and needed to ramp that up even further to help Ukraine. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged countries to join Germany in sending “as many tanks as possible, and as quickly as possible.” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin claimed after the Brussels talks that Ukraine had a very good chance of taking and “exploiting” the initiative on the battlefield this year. Britain said it and other European nations would provide military equipment including spare parts for tanks and artillery ammunition to Ukraine via an international fund, with an initial package worth more than $241 million.
Russia holds swathes of Ukraine’s southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, including its nuclear plant, nearly all of Luhansk and over half of Donetsk. Last year, Russia declared it had annexed the four regions in a move condemned by most United Nations members as illegal. Russia also aims to retake the settlements in the northeastern Kharkiv region that it surrendered to Kyiv last year, the head of the Russian-installed administration there said on Wednesday.