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Russia presses ahead with Donetsk campaign; Ukraine wants fighter jets


2023-01-31T23:20:34Z

Javeline anti-tank missiles are displayed on the assembly line as U.S. President Joe Biden tours a Lockheed Martin weapons factory in Troy, Alabama, U.S. May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Russian forces are making incremental gains in their push to take territory in Ukraine’s eastern province of Donetsk, focusing on the town of Bakhmut north of the regional capital.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government is lobbying hard for some of its neighbours and Western allies to supply fighter jets that it can use to repulse Russian advances. It took months of Ukraine’s appeals before Western countries last week pledged modern battle tanks, and Kyiv wants jets sooner rather than later.

In Paris after meeting Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said “there was no taboo” about supplying Kyiv with fighter planes.

The United States and Britain have thus far rejected the idea but repeated their willingness to continue military support to Ukraine, which Russian forces invaded in February 2022 in what Moscow called a “special military operation” to protect Russian security and Russian speakers. The invasion has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble.

More recently Russia has characterized the conflict as confronting what it says is an aggressive and expansionist U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

The West has so far refused to send weapons that could be used to attack deep inside Russia for fear of starting a wider war although Moscow has denounced recent Western pledges of weapons as provocations.

The United States, which has provided Ukraine about $27.2 billion in military aid since Russia’s invasion, is preparing a $2.2 billion package of additional assistance. That is expected to offer Kyiv longer-range rockets for the first time and other munitions and weapons, two U.S. officials briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

Bakhmut came under renewed fire as did Klishchiivka and Kurdyumivka, villages on the southern approaches to Bakhmut, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on Tuesday night.

Weeks of relentless pounding of Bakhmut have been similar to the drive by Russian forces to capture two cities further north – Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk – in June and July.

Russian forces on Tuesday made no headway in attempts to advance on Avdiivka, the second focal point of Russian attacks in Donetsk region, Kyiv’s military general staff said.

Russian forces also tried to advance near Lyman, a town further north in Donetsk region that was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in October, the military said.

Russia was reaching further west in Donetsk by firing on the town of Vuhledar and a half dozen other towns and villages, the Ukraine military said. Vuhledar is about 148 km (90 miles) away from the main fighting in and around Bakhmut.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said the Russian force in the new Vuhledar assault was at least the size of a brigade, a unit typically comprising several thousand troops.

The Ukrainian military statement did not mention the village of Blahodatne, which Russia says it has captured, and sits on one of the main roads into Bakhmut about 5 km (3 miles) north.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the situation there or other battlefield reports.

Zelenskiy said he had several meetings with top defence officials on Tuesday.

“We are examining in detail all the key sectors and what the prospects for them are,” he said in an evening video address, without providing details. “What the occupier is preparing and how we are already responding to Russia’s preparations to wreak revenge,” a reference to the setbacks Ukrainian troops inflicted on Russian forces last year in repelling advances around the country and retaking territory that had been occupied by Russia.

In Washington, the United States said Russia was violating the New START nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has been eager to preserve the treaty but ties with Moscow are the worst in decades over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia’s refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Also in Washington, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a staunch supporter of providing military aid to Ukraine, met with Republican lawmakers. The Republicans took over the House of Representatives from the Democrats at the start of this year and some hardline members among them have called for an end to U.S. military and other assistance to Ukraine, which amounts to tens of billions of dollars.

“My mission is to demonstrate that Ukraine will win – and that there is no conceivable case for delay in further supporting the Ukrainians to win this year,” Johnson said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine with Chinese officials during a Feb. 5-6 trip to China, the White House said on Tuesday.

A week after seeming to open the door for Russia and Belarus to compete at the 2024 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it is standing by sanctions imposed against the countries over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.