The Ukrainian president said he is monitoring the security situation in Belarus as Wagner fighters are training Belarusian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned his country that Russia is throwing all available resources into its military campaign to prevent Kiev forces from launching their counterattack in the south and east of the country.
Zelensky’s comments on Friday came as Ukrainian officials again acknowledged that the long-awaited operation by Ukraine to push back Russian forces was progressing at a much slower pace than some expected, though new reports emerged of Ukraine’s progress on the battlefield.
“We must all understand very clearly – as clearly as possible – that the Russian forces on our southern and eastern lands are investing everything they can to stop our warriors,” Zelensky said in his daily evening address to the country.
“Every thousand meters we advance,” he said, “and every success of each of our fighting brigades deserves gratitude.”
Zelensky also said he had received an “important report” on the security situation in neighboring Belarus, which he was watching closely, although there were currently “no large-scale threats”.
“Our full focus is on the front lines,” he said.
The Ukrainian president’s comment on Belarus came as news emerged that the Russian mercenary group Wagner had reached an agreement to train Belarusian forces.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that an agreement had been reached with Wagner to develop a roadmap for “the near future for training and transfer of experience between units of different branches of the armed forces”.
The Defense Ministry also released a video showing Wagner fighters instructing Belarusian soldiers at a training ground near the town of Asipovichi, 90 kilometers (56 miles) southeast of the capital, Minsk.
The ministry did not specify how Wagner fighters would participate in the military exercises in Belarus, where the rebel mercenary force was promised a safe haven after it called off its revolt against the Russian military leadership last month.
Belarus has emerged as the closest ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin in his war on Ukraine.
“Progress is not so fast”
Ukrainian President Andriy Yermak’s chief of staff was the latest official to admit on Friday that the fighting has been difficult for Ukrainian forces, and that the offensive is “not progressing very quickly”.
Yermak, seen as Zelensky’s right-hand man, said the Western allies, who have provided billions of dollars in arms to Kiev, were not pressuring it to advance faster.
“No pressure, just a question: How can we help you further?” He said.
Ukrainian General Oleksandr Tarnavsky, commander of Ukrainian forces in the south, said after meeting Zelensky on Friday that his forces were “methodically removing the enemy from their positions”.
He wrote on Telegram that enemy losses over the past 24 hours equated to at least 200.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, in its daily report on Friday, said its forces had repulsed 16 Ukrainian offensives on the eastern front, including near the long-disputed town of Marinka and in the strategic village of Klishchevka on the southern edge of Bakhmut.
In the south of the country, “the situation is very difficult in advancing towards Berdyansk,” military analyst Serhiy Hrapsky told Ukrainian Radio Nevada – referring to a port on the Sea of Azov.
“The enemy is offering resistance to stop our advance south,” he said.
Ukraine’s weeks-old counter-offensive has reportedly focused on capturing villages in the country’s southeast towards the Sea of Azov and areas near the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces captured in May after months of bloody battles for which they primarily led. Wagner fighters.
Ukrainian forces hope to cut off a land bridge established by Russian forces with the annexed Crimea.
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