Russia denied Ukrainian advances on the hot front lines
The Russian Defense Ministry denied reports that Ukrainian forces managed to penetrate various parts of the front lines and said that the military situation was under control.
Moscow’s response came on Thursday, after Russian military bloggers on Telegram reported that there was progress for Kiev forces north and south of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, and some indicated that the pro-Kiev forces had begun their expected counterattack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had announced earlier that the attack hadn’t yet begun.
“The statements reported by individual channels on Telegram about ‘defense breaches’ in various areas on the military contact line do not correspond to reality,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a post on Telegram.
“The overall situation in the special military operation area is under control,” it added in a statement.
However, the fact that the ministry felt compelled to release the statement reflects Moscow’s earlier admission that the military operation was “very difficult”.
Ukraine says it has pushed back Russian forces over the past few days near Bakhmut, while preparing for an all-out counterattack involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of Western tanks is still underway.
“We still need more time,” Zelensky said in an interview with European broadcasters.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s private military group Wagner, which is leading the fighting in Bakhmut, said on Thursday that the Ukrainian operations were proving “unfortunately partly successful”.
He added that Zelensky “was disingenuous” when he said the counterattack had not yet begun.
Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had already received enough materiel from Western allies for their campaign but were awaiting the completion of the arrival of armored vehicles.
In a major step in Western military support to Ukraine, Britain said it was sending long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which would allow Kiev forces to strike Russian targets deep behind the front line.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Parliament in London that the missiles are now on their way to the country or are already in it, adding that Britain is providing these weapons to Ukraine to use them inside its territory.
Western countries, including the United States, have previously refrained from providing long-range weapons to Kiev for fear of provoking Russian retaliation.
Wallace said Britain had considered the risks.
The Kremlin earlier threatened that if Britain provided these missiles, it would require “an appropriate response from our military”.
In a speech on Thursday evening, Zelensky said he would soon be able to announce very important defense-related news.
“Foreign flags won’t prevail over our land and our people will not be enslaved,” he added.
In turn, Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, announced Thursday its readiness to include the Russian Wagner Group, which is accused of committing violations in Ukraine and Africa, on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations.
“Sweden is ready to work towards reaching a consensus within the European Union to put Wagner on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations as soon as the legal conditions are in place,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Bilstrom told Dagens Nyheter.
On Tuesday, the French National Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the French government to “mobilize diplomacy” to include the group in this list in order to punish Wagner members and their supporters more effectively, especially on the financial level.
The Swedish Foreign Minister added to the newspaper “the Wagner Group committed terrible violations, especially in Sudan, Mali, Syria and Ukraine”.
“For the group to be subject to EU sanctions related to terrorist organizations, a judicial authority or an equivalent competent national authority, such as a court or prosecutor, must decide to open an investigation against the group or charge it with a terrorist act,” he explained.
In March, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a resolution describing Wagner as a “terrorist organization”, in a move welcomed by Kiev.
The foreign ministers of the 27 EU countries will meet Friday in Stockholm.
On Friday, the Russian army confirmed that it had repulsed 26 Ukrainian attacks on a 95-kilometer front in the Soledar region in eastern Ukraine, near Bakhmut.
The Russian Defense Ministry said, “In the direction of Solidar, the enemy launched an attack last Thursday along the front line, which is more than 95 kilometers long.
The Ukrainian army units launched 26 attacks with the participation of more than a thousand soldiers and up to forty tanks.
The Russian defense ministry confirmed, “All attacks launched by the Ukrainian units were repulsed, our forces didn’t allow any penetration of the defenses of the Russian forces”.
Soledar, which was occupied by Russian forces in January, is located ten kilometers north of Bakhmut.
Earlier Friday, the Ukrainian army announced that it had advanced two kilometers in the vicinity of Bakhmut, the center of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
In recent days, the head of Wagner group has repeatedly accused the Russian regular army of retreating in Bakhmut.
On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the redeployment of units to northern Bakhmut, in the “Berkhevsky Reservoir” area, in order to “enhance the sustainability of defense,” without explicitly acknowledging that there had been a retreat.
It also reaffirmed that the “attack groups”, a term given to the units of the Wagner armed group, continued the attack in western Bakhmut, which is the last part of the city that Moscow was unable to control.
Russian defense ministry added that “the paratrooper units support it and prevent the Ukrainian army’s attempts to launch a counter-attack on the outskirts”.
Ukraine has confirmed for months that it is preparing for a major attack, after the front has been largely frozen since last year, as most of the battles aim to control Bakhmut in the east.
On Thursday night, the Russian army denied that the Ukrainian forces had achieved any “penetration” of its defenses, stressing that the situation was “under control,” after pro-Russian military bloggers warned of the possibility of launching an attack.