Ukraines advances near Bakhmut threaten Russias flanks live updates

Ukraine’s advances near Bakhmut threaten Russia’s flanks: live updates – The New York Times

KIEV, Ukraine — When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a BBC interview that he would delay the counter-offensive to retake Ukrainian land from Russia, it sparked an immediate debate about what he really meant. His reasoning was that while his troops were ready, taking off without what he believed to be adequate weapons would mean too many Ukrainians would lose their lives.

For Ukrainian analysts, the answer to his thoughts was simple.

“That’s right,” said Taras Chmut, a former military officer and director of Come Back Alive, a nonprofit foundation that provides military equipment to the Ukrainian army. “The sum that we have collected in the last few months is still not enough for a successful counter-offensive.”

Despite multi-billion dollar arms donations from the West, the Ukrainian army still doesn’t have enough of everything from ammunition and artillery shells to armored vehicles and air defense systems. He reiterated concerns expressed by military commanders and civilians that Ukraine’s air defenses were inadequate after Russia recently stepped up its use of guided aerial bombs, which could prove costly to Ukrainian forces.

“It is the decision of the military high command whether to take the risks,” he said.

But others offered other theories.

Maria Zolkina, head of regional security and conflict studies at the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation, said Mr Zelenskyi’s message likely had a dual purpose.

“It was partly a political statement to get Western partners to speed up these deliveries,” she said. But Mr. Zelenskyy was probably also trying to get a grip on Western expectations in case the counter-offensive “does not turn out as well as expected”.

In recent days, Ukrainian officials have already attempted to control expectations of the expected counter-offensive, stating that there may not be a single decisive battle and that the public and Western allies should scale back expectations of success.

“It looks like we’re in a Hollywood movie where a great battle for Middle-earth begins and a battle for Gondor will decide everything. That doesn’t happen,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelenskyy, referring to the story of The Lord of the Rings.

A woman outside her home damaged by a Russian missile in Sloviansk, Ukraine on Thursday Credit: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

And then there is the possibility of deliberate deception in order to surprise the Russians.

“I would not rule out that it was an information ploy as Ukraine is trying to hide its preparations,” Ms Zolkina said.

Part of the success of two Ukrainian counter-offensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions last fall was due to the Ukrainian military announcing it was planning a counterattack in the south, causing Russia to move troops south and leaving its defenses undermanned the northeast. Ms Zolkina recognized the weakness and planned an attack in the northeast to surprise the Russians and retake areas, Ms Zolkina said.

She said Kiev was focused on keeping Russia in the dark and it seemed to be working. The Russian order to civilians and workers to evacuate the occupied area around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is a sign that the Russians do not know where the next attack will come from, she said.

Some Russians also said that Mr. Zelenskyi was pretending.

Yevgeny V Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company leading the Russian attack to capture Bakhmut, dismissed Mr Zelenskyy’s comment as insincere in an audio message published by his press service on Telegram.

“The counter-offensive is in full swing,” he claimed in the statement.

Mr Prigozhin, who is known for his frankness and often self-serving comments, said Ukrainian forces would first target Wagner’s forces in and around Bakhmut and then target the southern region of Zaporizhia, as well as the Russian cities of Bryansk and Belgorod. and command centers of the Russian military.

“The units that have undergone the necessary training have received weapons, equipment, tanks and everything else,” he said. “And after trying their strength and stretching their muscles, the north and south directions will be in play.”

Two Russian military bloggers embedded in the Wagner forces reported that Ukrainian forces had advanced on Bakhmut’s north and south flanks, forcing Russian troops and Wagner fighters to retreat in several locations on Thursday.

“In the next 24 hours, the Kiev regime will apparently start to step up its efforts in the south,” popular Russian military blogger Yevgeny Poddubny wrote on his Telegram channel. “We assume that the enemy counter-offensive has begun.”

Oleksandr Chubko reported from Kiev and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Berlin.