Near Bakhmut, Ukraine/MUNICH—As senior Western leaders met in Munich on Friday to assess the one-year-long war shaking Europe, Ukrainian soldiers fighting to hold off a Russian push on the small eastern city of Bakhmut pleaded for more weapons from the outside world.
“Give us more military equipment, more weapons, and we will deal with the Russian occupier, we will destroy them,” said Dmytro, a serviceman standing in the snow near Bakhmut, echoing the plea of his president to the Munich conference.
Nearly one year into the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are intensifying assaults in the east. Ukraine is planning a spring counter-offensive, and is seeking more, heavier, and longer-range weapons from its Western allies. Putin claims he is fighting for Russia’s security against an aggressively expanding NATO alliance, while Kyiv and its allies view the invasion as a colonial-style land grab.
On the freezing battlefield, Ukrainian servicemen showed the benefits of Australian-provided Bushmaster armored vehicles, which shield soldiers from bullets and enable the evacuation of wounded, as well as cover for reconnaissance. Dmytro noted, “There were cases when anti-tank mines were detonated, and the soldiers only received contusions. There were no serious injuries to the soldiers. It has worked very well.”
The governor of Luhansk, one of two provinces in what is known as the Donbas which Russia partially controls and wants to take completely, said ground and air attacks were increasing. Kyiv reported 36 missiles, of which 16 were shot down, and said its largest oil refinery, Kremenchuk, was struck. Russia claimed a barrage of missile strikes on Thursday around Ukraine had achieved their goals in hitting facilities providing fuel and ammunition to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s army.
Attending the three-day Munich Security Conference were a host of senior Western officials including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Zelenskyy, speaking by video link, called for allies at the meeting to speed up sending weapons and won immediate support from Scholz and Macron. The International Monetary Fund also announced on Friday it had reached a staff-level agreement with Ukraine, paving the way for talks on a full loan program.
As well as the pressing problem of the war, the Cold War-style standoff with Russia has revived huge wider security issues for Europe: how much to rely on the United States, how much to spend on defense, how to build its own capacity. Kyiv said only a full Russian exit was acceptable. The Pentagon said on Friday that the first Ukrainian battalion with about 635 soldiers had completed a roughly five-week-long U.S. course of combined arms training on the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Germany. Additional battalion-level combined arms training was already underway.
Moscow accuses the United States of inciting Ukraine to escalate the war and now being directly involved. “The American warmongers … supply weapons in huge quantities, provide intelligence and participate directly in the planning of combat operations,” said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry. Russia’s current focus is on Bakhmut, a now largely shattered city in Donetsk province—adjacent to Luhansk—whose pre-war population of about 70,000 people have mainly fled.