Russia Seeks Gains in Ukraine Before Western Tanks Turn Up
Russian forces pressed an offensive in eastern Ukraine on Friday, seeking to seize an advantage in the months before tanks pledged by Kyiv’s Western allies begin to arrive on the battlefield.
Ukrainian forces said on Friday they had repelled Russian attacks on Vuhledar and several other villages in the eastern Donetsk region over the preceding 24 hours. Russia also launched 148 attacks along the front line with Ukrainian forces in the southern Zaporizhzhia region over the past day using tanks, rockets and artillery, the regional military administration said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had undertaken more offensive maneuvers over the past 24 hours both in Zaporizhzhia and Vuhledar, where it said it had launched strikes on Ukraine’s 72nd Brigade and had downed a Ukrainian Su-25 warplane.
The European Union on Friday, meanwhile, extended its economic sanctions on Russia for the next six months. The decision affects a swath of sanctions imposed last year, from financial sanctions on Russian banks and its central bank to export and import bans.
There had been concerns that Hungarian Prime Minister
could push to weaken the sanctions package. In recent months, he has attacked the EU’s sanctions, especially the EU oil import embargo on Moscow, saying they are more costly for Europe than for Russia. Decisions on sanctions are taken by consensus among the EU’s 27 member states.
While Hungary stepped back from objecting to renewing the economic sanctions, it is pushing for the EU to drop sanctions on several Russian executives who have been blacklisted by the EU, according to several EU diplomats. A decision is due in March on rolling over these sanctions.
discussed the situation in Vuhledar and the city of Bakhmut at a meeting with military chiefs on Thursday, he said in his nightly address.
After months of setbacks, Russian forces earlier this month broke through Ukrainian defenses in the east to seize the town of Soledar. That has made it harder for Ukraine to keep hold of neighboring Bakhmut, which has been at the epicenter of the war for several months. The city is central to Russia’s main goal: to take over the remainder of Donetsk, and the wider industrial area known as Donbas. But the fighting there has come at huge cost for both sides.
“The more Russia loses in this battle for Donbas, the less its overall potential will be,” the Ukrainian president said. “We know what the occupiers are planning. We are countering it.”
Ukrainian officials warn that Russia is gearing up for a renewed onslaught this spring after mobilizing some 300,000 men to shore up its faltering campaign last fall. For Moscow, there is a window before tanks pledged this week by Kyiv’s Western allies arrive in Ukraine, potentially tilting the battlefield again.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday its forces had launched a series of strikes over the past day on Ukrainian military and infrastructure targets that had disrupted the transfer of weapons, including those from countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, being delivered to the front.
Kyiv’s allies are rushing to assemble two battalions’ worth of Leopard 2 tanks from a range of European countries after Germany and the U.S. committed to provide their own tanks. The initial battalion is expected to arrive in Ukraine within three months.
Poland, which has been at the forefront of pushing for increased military support for Ukraine, on Friday said it would send 60 upgraded T-72 tanks—half of them Polish-made PT-91 Twardy tanks—in addition to its contribution of 14 Leopards.
The U.S. has also pledged 31 M1 Abrams tanks, but those will take much longer to arrive in Ukraine because they are being procured through the defense industry instead of being pulled from existing American defense stocks.
Mr. Zelensky has urged Western countries to speed up the delivery of tanks and the training of Ukrainian forces to use them as Russia regains initiative.
Russian officials have said the tanks won’t alter dynamics on the battlefield and will only lead to escalation in the war.
secretary-general of the European Union’s European External Action Service, said during a visit to Japan that German and U.S. tank provisions weren’t escalatory and were meant to help Ukrainians defend themselves, rather than making them attackers. The decision to supply them is in response to Russian escalation, Mr. Sannino said, accusing Moscow of carrying out indiscriminate attacks on civilians and cities.
The tanks will enable Ukraine to destroy enemy tanks, offer greater protection and support combined operations, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said.
Assessing recent Russian claims of advances, the U.K.’s Defense Ministry said Russian forces had likely conducted local, probing attacks near Vuhledar in the east and Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region but that Russia hadn’t achieved substantial gains.
Russian military sources are deliberately spreading misinformation in an effort to imply that the Russian operation is sustaining momentum, the ministry said.
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