- Zelensky says more armored vehicles would reduce casualties
- Kiev says Russian forces pushed back 2 km near Pakmut
- The Kremlin admits the situation is ‘very difficult’
- A fuel depot was hit in Russian territory near the border
May 11 (Reuters) – The head of Russia’s Wagner private army said on Thursday that Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive was already underway and was making gains on the outskirts of the eastern city of Baghmut, while Kiev said its main effort had yet to be launched.
The Ukrainian operations were “unfortunately, partially successful,” Evgeny Prigozhin said on social media, adding that mercenaries and convicts recruited from prison led Russia’s main military campaign in Bagmut.
Kiev says it has pushed back Russian forces in the past two days near Pakmut in small-scale local attacks, but a counteroffensive involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of new Western tanks has yet to begin.
“We need a little more time,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with European broadcasters published earlier Thursday.
Ukrainian forces had already received enough equipment from Western allies for their campaign, but were waiting for a full complement to arrive to minimize casualties, Zelenskiy said.
“With [what we have] We can go forward and win,” he said. “But we will lose a lot of people. I think this is unacceptable.”
Prigozhin, a one-time secret figure who has issued daily statements criticizing the Russian command for failing to adequately supply its fighters, said Zelenskiy was a “decoy” and that the Ukrainian offensive was already underway.
While Prigozhin’s forces are fighting in the center of the city, Ukraine is making gains on its flanks in areas defended by regular Russian troops, some of whom have fled.
The war in Ukraine is at a turning point, with Kyiv poised to unleash its new counteroffensive after six months on the defensive, while Russia launches a major winter offensive that has failed to capture significant territory.
Western allies are sending hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine for its counteroffensive and have trained thousands of Ukrainian troops abroad.
Moscow’s main target for months has been the small eastern Ukrainian city of Baghmut, which has come close to being captured but remains its only prize after months of Europe’s bloodiest ground war since World War II.
Prigozhin said on Tuesday that Russian forces had fled the trenches, giving up a patch of ground southwest of Pakmut. A Ukrainian division claimed to have routed the platoon and destroyed two of its companies.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said on Wednesday that Russian forces had retreated up to 2 km from the front line in several places.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not comment on the reports, but overnight Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted the battle was “very difficult”. He said he had no doubt that Bagmuth would be “caught and brought under control.”
Anticipating a Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russia has resumed airstrikes in Ukraine over the past two weeks after nearly two months. Moscow says it has used drones to attack areas occupied by Ukraine and Russian areas near the border.
In a recent statement, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine, said the drone crashed into a fuel storage depot. No one was injured. Kiev does not comment on such incidents.
Britain has delivered Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, a Western official said Thursday.
CNN first reported the decision and said Britain had received assurances from the Ukrainian government that the missiles would only be used within Ukrainian sovereign territory and not within Russia.
Some Ukrainian officials have tried to manage expectations for their counteroffensive, hoping for a quick repeat of Ukraine’s major military successes last year, which pushed Russian forces back from the outskirts of Kyiv and recaptured occupied territories in unexpected developments.
Russia is determined to defend Ukraine’s sixth territory, which it occupies and claims to have permanently annexed. In the six months since the last major Ukrainian advance it has built extensive fortifications along the front. Penetrating through an armored assault would be more complicated than anything Ukraine’s forces have attempted so far.
In Brussels, NATO’s top military official said the war would increasingly be a battle between a large number of poorly trained Russian troops with outdated equipment and a small Ukrainian force with better Western weapons and training.
Admiral Rob Bauer, the Dutch officer who heads NATO’s military group, said Russia is deploying T-54 tanks – an older model designed in the post-World War II years.
Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Olena Harmash, Pavel Polityuk, David Ljunggren and Ron Popeski; Editing by Peter Graf, Alex Richardson, David Gregorio and Diane Croft
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