- Russia says Ukraine launched the attack on Sunday
- Ukraine did not mention the beginning of the counterattack
- Zelensky praises “the news we’ve been waiting for”
KIEV (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it had thwarted another major Ukrainian offensive in Donetsk, inflicting heavy losses, while Ukraine hailed progress in fighting in the east, though it was not clear if it marked the start of a long-awaited offensive. Ukrainian counterattack.
Russia said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had launched a major offensive over the weekend in the southern part of the Donetsk region, which it also thwarted.
Ukrainian officials did not signal any broad and significant new campaign, although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was vague in his Monday night speech, praising “the news we’ve been waiting for” and moves forward in Bakhmut in Donetsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year in what the Kremlin expected would be a swift operation, but his forces have suffered a series of defeats and regrouped in the east of the country.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops dug in through the winter, besieging Bakhmut for months and preparing for an expected Ukrainian counterattack to try and cut Russia’s so-called land bridge to Crimea.
The latest statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that the Russian forces caused heavy losses among the Ukrainian attacking forces, destroying 28 tanks, including eight Leopard main battle tanks, and 109 armored vehicles. It said that the total Ukrainian losses amounted to 1,500 soldiers.
“Having suffered heavy losses the day before, the Kiev regime reorganized the remnants of the 23rd and 31st mechanized brigades into unified separate units, which continued offensive operations,” the ministry said via Telegram.
“The defeat was inflicted by complex fire by army forces, operational and tactical aviation, missile forces and artillery, as well as heavy flamethrower systems.”
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate comment from Kiev on Russia’s assertions.
Russia and Ukraine have often made claims about inflicting heavy casualties on each other that cannot be independently verified.
The Washington Post reported that some US officials believe a counterattack is under way, but White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined to say if he believes that is the case.
“I will not speak on behalf of the Ukrainian army,” he said at a regular press briefing.
“(But) whenever they decide to escalate and whatever they decide to do, the president is confident that we’ve done everything we can over the last six, eight months or more to make sure they have all the equipment, the training and the ability to succeed.”
Calling for silence regarding any military action, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a promotional video posted on Sunday: “Plans are like silence – the start will not be announced.”
The success or failure of the counteroffensive, which is expected to be launched with billions of dollars of advanced Western weapons, is likely to affect the shape of future Western diplomatic and military support for Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Reuters on Monday that Ukraine now had enough weapons to launch a counterattack but declined to comment when asked if it had begun.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier that Ukraine launched a large-scale offensive on Sunday in five sectors of the front in southern Donetsk, an area where Moscow has long suspected Ukraine would seek to drive a wedge through Russian-held territory.
“The enemy’s goal was to penetrate our defenses in the most vulnerable sectors, in his view, on the front,” she added. “It didn’t work.”
In its Monday evening report, the Ukrainian General Staff did not mention any large-scale offensive, nor did it indicate any deviation from the usual pace or scope of fighting along fronts that have not changed dramatically in months.
Deputy Defense Minister Hana Malyar said on Telegram that Ukraine was “turning to offensive actions” along parts of the front, but dismissed suggestions of a major operation.
“The main focus now is the Bakhmut sector,” Maliar said. “And that has led to some successes, including progress. We’ve mastered certain heights.”
The Russian Wagner mercenary group captured Bakhmut last month and handed over its positions there to Russian regular forces.
Wagner militia leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has often clashed with Russia’s defense ministry, wrote on Telegram that his latest statement and the massive Ukrainian losses he described were “just wild and absurd science fiction”.
Russia now controls at least 18% of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory and claimed four more regions of Ukraine as Russian territory after annexing Crimea in 2014.
Reporting from the Reuters offices of Lydia Kelly and Ron Popesky; Written by David Brunstrom. Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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