- After Rome, Berlin and Paris, Zelensky goes to London
- Kiev prevails in the northern and southern suburbs of Baghmut
- Belarus president says four planes shot down over Russia
KYIV/LONDON, May 15 (Reuters) – Ukraine hailed its first substantial battlefield advances in six months on Monday as President Volodymyr Zelensky won a pledge of new long-range drones in Britain to add more Western weapons to a counteroffensive against Russian aggressors. .
Since last week, the Ukrainian military has begun pushing back Russian forces in and around the battleground city of Baghmut, its first significant offensive since its troops retook the southern city of Kherson in November.
“The advance of our troops in the Pakmut direction is the first success of offensive operations in the defense of Pakmut,” the commander of the ground forces, Colonel General Oleksandr Chirsky, said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
“The past few days have shown that we can move forward and destroy the enemy even in very difficult situations like this,” he said. “We are fighting with fewer resources than the enemy and, at the same time, are able to destroy its plans.”
The battle for the small eastern city has become the longest and bloodiest of the war and has totemic significance for Russia, with no other prizes for a winter campaign that cost thousands of lives.
Over the past six months, Kyiv has put its troops on the defensive as Moscow ramps up its campaign, sending hundreds of thousands of new reserves and mercenaries into Europe’s bloodiest ground war since World War II.
Kyiv is now preparing a counter-offensive using hundreds of new tanks and armored vehicles sent by the West since the start of the year, aimed at recapturing a sixth territory in Ukraine that Moscow claims it has annexed.
Zelenskiy met British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Monday, the latest stop on a tour that has taken him to Rome, Berlin and Paris over the past three days, pocketing major new weapons along the way.
Britain last week became the first Western country to deliver long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, and followed it up with a pledge of drones capable of striking at a range of 200 km (125 miles) during Zelenskiy’s visit on Monday.
Sunak’s government said it would soon begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly fighter jets, although it would not supply the planes to Ukraine because Kyiv wants US F-16s, which Britain’s air force does not use.
Zelenskiy described the new weapons promised by the Europeans as “important and powerful”.
In a video address from the train that will take him back to Kiev late Monday, Zelensky said, “We are returning home with new military aid. New and powerful weapons for the front, more security for our people. More political support…”
Sunak said the battle was at a “pivotal moment”.
“The UK will remain committed to defending Ukraine and its people…It is important for the Kremlin to know that we are not walking away. We are here for the long haul.”
The Kremlin said it did not believe the added British hardware would change the course of the conflict, calling it a “special military operation” on its part to eliminate security threats posed by Kiev’s pursuit of ties with the West. Kyiv and Western supporters call Russia’s actions an unprovoked land grab.
Ukrainian forces drove Russian troops out of the capital, Kyiv, a year ago and landed again in two major offensives in the second half of 2022, but have withstood a punishing Russian offensive while waiting for weapons to arrive.
Ukrainian officials usually give few details about their offensive operations, but have recovered significant gains in the northern and southern outskirts of Baghmut over the past seven days.
Moscow has agreed to retreat north of the city, and the head of Wagner’s private army, which is fighting inside Baghmut, says Russian regular forces have left positions on the northern and southern flanks.
Ukrainian officials portray the fighting in the area as localized developments, rather than what they say is a major counteroffensive push that has yet to begin.
A report by a respected Russian news outlet on Saturday that four Russian military aircraft were shot down near the borders of Belarus and Ukraine while preparing to strike targets inside Ukraine was inadvertently confirmed by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday.
He spoke during a visit to an air force command base in Belarus, according to the Bull Pervovo Telegram channel, a Belarusian state publication that reports on Lukashenko’s activities.
“Three days after the events near us – that is, in the Bryansk region, when four planes were shot down, we were forced to respond. Since then, we, our troops, have been on high alert,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying.
There was no official response from Ukraine, which generally refuses to comment on reports of attacks inside Russia. But Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, on Saturday called the incident “justice … and instant karma.”
Belarus is a close ally of Russia, which used it as a launching pad for its invasion of Ukraine, although Lukashenko has insisted that Belarus is not participating in the war and has not sent troops to fight Russian forces.
Written by Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich
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