- Zelensky says that more armored vehicles will reduce the number of casualties
- Kiev says that the Russian forces retreated to a distance of two kilometers near Bakhmut
- The Kremlin acknowledges that the situation is very difficult
- A fuel depot was hit in a Russian region near the border
May 11 (Reuters) – The leader of Russia’s Wagner private army said on Thursday that Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive has already begun and is making gains on the outskirts of the eastern city of Bakhmut, while Kiev said its main effort has yet to begin.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose forces of mercenaries and convicts recruited from prison led the main Russian military campaign in Bakhmut, said on social media that the Ukrainian operations were “unfortunately partly successful”.
Kiev says it has pushed back Russian forces over the past two days near Bakhmut in small-scale local attacks, but a counter-attack involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of new Western tanks has yet to begin.
“We still need more time,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with European television stations published earlier on Thursday.
Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had already received enough equipment from Western allies for their campaign, but were waiting for the full array to arrive to minimize casualties.
“with [what we have] He said: “We can move forward and be successful. But we are losing a lot of people. I think this is unacceptable.”
Prigozhin, a once secretive figure who recently issued daily statements condemning the Russian leadership for failing to adequately supply his fighters, said Zelensky was “disingenuous” and that the Ukrainian offensive had already begun.
While Prigozhin’s forces were fighting in the center of the city, he said Ukraine was making gains on its flanks in areas defended by regular Russian forces, some of which had fled.
The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point, as Kiev prepares to launch its new counter-offensive after six months of keeping its forces on the defensive, while Russia launches a massive winter offensive that failed to capture significant territory.
The Western allies are sending hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles into Ukraine for its counteroffensive and have trained thousands of Ukrainian troops abroad.
Moscow’s main target for months has been the small city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which it came close to capturing but did not capture what would be its only prize after months of Europe’s bloodiest ground battle since World War Two.
On Tuesday, Prigozhin said a Russian battalion had escaped from the trenches and abandoned a plot of land southwest of Bakhmut. A Ukrainian unit claimed to have defeated the brigade and destroyed two of its companies.
On Wednesday, the commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces said that the Russian forces had retreated in some places by up to two kilometers to the front line.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not comment on those reports, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged in overnight remarks that the war was “very difficult”. He said that he had no doubts that Bakhmut “will be captured and kept under control.”
In anticipation of the Ukrainian counterattack, Russia has resumed air strikes on Ukraine over the past two weeks after a lull of nearly two months. Moscow says Ukraine has used drones to strike occupied regions and Russian lands near the border.
In the latest report, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine, said a drone had bombed a fuel storage depot. No one is hurt. Kiev does not comment on such incidents.
A Western official said on Thursday that Britain has supplied Ukraine with long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles.
CNN reported on the decision and said Britain had received assurances from the Ukrainian government that these missiles would only be used within sovereign Ukrainian territory and not inside Russia.
Some Ukrainian officials have tried to manage expectations for their counteroffensive, warning against expecting a quick repeat of Ukraine’s major military successes last year, when it drove Russian forces from the outskirts of Kiev and recaptured swathes of occupied territory in unexpected breakthroughs.
Russia is determined to defend the sixth Ukrainian territory it has occupied and claims to annex forever. In the six months that have elapsed since the last major advance into Ukraine, it has built extensive fortifications along the front. Penetrating that with an armored attack would be far more complicated than anything Ukrainian forces have tried to do so far.
In Brussels, a senior NATO military official said the war would be an increasing battle between large numbers of poorly trained Russian forces with outdated equipment and a smaller Ukrainian force with better Western weaponry and training.
Admiral Robbauer, the Dutch officer who heads NATO’s Military Committee, said Russia was deploying T-54 tanks – an older model designed in the years after World War II.
Additional reporting by Tom Palmforth, Olena Harmash, Pavel Politiuk, David Leungren and Ron Popeski; Editing by Peter Graff, Alex Richardson, David Gregorio, and Diane Kraft
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