Russia claims gains in relentless battles in east Ukraine, as Zelenskyy meets with Danish PM
Russian forces claimed incremental gains in eastern Ukraine, contributing to their biggest advance in months, after relentless fighting that Kyiv described as human wave attacks that showed Moscow has no regard for the lives of its own men.
Key points: Locations of reported battles indicated clear Russian gains after about two months in which the front lines were largely frozen in place. Mr. Zelenskyy met with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to discuss the impact of Russian missile and drone strikes. While Kiev won arms from the West, Moscow turned to allies, including Iran
The administrator of Russian-held parts of Donetsk province, Denis Pushilin, claimed troops had secured a foothold in Vuhledar, a coal-mining town whose ruins had been a Ukrainian bastion since the start of the war.
A day earlier, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force said his fighters had secured Blahodatne, a village just north of Bakhmut, a city that has been the focus of sustained Russian attacks for months.
Kyiv said it had repelled attacks on Blahodatne and Vuhledar, and Reuters could not independently verify the situations there.
But the locations of the reported battles indicated clear, if gradual, Russian gains after about two months in which the front lines were largely frozen in place.
“The situation is very difficult. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in the Donetsk region – there are constant Russian attacks,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video speech late Sunday (local time).
“The enemy does not count his men and maintains, despite numerous casualties, a high intensity of attacks.”
Vuhledar sits south of Bakhmut, near where the eastern front line protects Russian-controlled rail lines that supply Moscow’s forces in southern Ukraine.
Mykola Salamakha, a Ukrainian colonel and military analyst, told Ukrainian Radio NV that Moscow’s assault is coming at a heavy cost.
“The town is on a plateau and an extremely strong defensive hub has been created there,” he said.
“This is a repeat of the situation in Bakhmut – one wave of Russian troops after another crushed by the Ukrainian armed forces.”
Russian rockets hit downtown Kharkiv. (AP: Andrii Marienko)
Fighting largely stalled in eastern Ukraine on Monday (local time), where Russian shelling has killed five civilians in the past day, according to Ukrainian officials, as the warring sides increased their demands for renewed military pushes expected in the coming weeks.
The casualties included a woman killed and three others wounded by Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the country’s northeast, regional governor Oleh Syniyehubov said.
Russia’s troops seized large swaths of northeastern Kharkiv region in the months following its invasion last February.
But Ukrainian counteroffensives that began in August have retaken Russian-held territory, particularly in Kharkiv.
Putin calls Saudi crown prince
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Monday to discuss cooperation within the OPEC+ group of oil-producing countries to maintain oil price stability, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies led by Russia, collectively known as OPEC+, will hold a virtual meeting on Wednesday.
Two OPEC+ delegates told Reuters on Monday that the panel would likely recommend keeping the group’s current oil output policy.
Russian oil production has so far shown resilience in the face of Western sanctions imposed after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 and price caps imposed by Western countries in December.
Read more about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Zelenskyy meets the Danish Prime Minister, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (center) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visit the site of the recent Russian bombing in Mykolaiv. (AP: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)
Mr Zelenskyy met with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Mykolaiv on Monday, a rare visit by a foreign leader close to the front.
The city, where Russia’s advance in the south was halted, was under relentless bombardment until Ukraine pushed back the front line in November.
Mr Zelenskyy’s office released footage of the president speaking to Mr. Frederiksen shakes hands on a snowy street before entering a hospital where they meet wounded soldiers.
The two discussed the impact of Russian missile and drone strikes.
“We … reviewed the state of the region’s energy infrastructure, the means for its protection and the pace of restoration,” Mr Zelenskyy said of the meeting with regional officials on the Telegram messaging app.
“We discussed the operational situation in southern Ukraine, the consequences of Russia’s missile and drone attacks.”
Zelenskyy calls for faster supply of weapons
Mr Zelenskyy said keeping up the pace of allies’ support was crucial.
“The speed of supply was and will be one of the key factors in this war. Russia hopes to drag out the war, to exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon,” he said on Sunday (local) time ) in his nightly video address.
“We need to speed up the events, speed up the supply and opening of new necessary weapons options for Ukraine.”
Ukraine is looking beyond Western allies for arms support. (AP: Andriy Dubchak)
With the war approaching its one-year mark and draining both sides’ resources, the Western call for arms for Kiev is spreading beyond NATO.
On Monday, the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, asked that South Korea also send direct military support to Ukraine.
South Korea is a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped, US-backed military.
On Monday, France and Australia announced plans to jointly send several thousand 155-millimeter artillery shells to Ukraine.
The first deliveries are expected in the first quarter of this year.
As Kiev has won arms from the West, Moscow has turned to allies, including Iran, which Kiev and the West say has supplied Russia with hundreds of long-range “suicide drones” used to attack Ukrainian cities.
Over the weekend, an Iranian military factory was hit by a drone strike that a US official said appeared to have been carried out by Israel.
Israel has not commented.
Kyiv implied that the attack on Iran was payback for Tehran’s military support to Russia: “Explosive night in Iran,” tweeted senior Zelenskyy aide Mykhailo Podolyak.
Iran summoned the prosecutor at Ukraine’s embassy over Mr Podolyak’s remarks.
Russia said the attack on Iran “could have unpredictable consequences for peace and stability in the Middle East”.
Unlike many Western countries, Israel has stopped short of openly arming Kiev, but it is seen as concerned about Russia’s reliance on Iranian drone technology, which it views as a regional security threat.
Space to play or break, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows for volume. Watch Duration: 1 minute 38 seconds1m 38s Volodomyr Zelenskyy makes a direct call for more tanks. (Steve Cannane)