BEIJING: Ukraine said its forces were “managing to stabilize” the situation around Bakhmut, a now-destroyed city that has seen the longest battle of the Russian invasion.
Bakhmut — which once had an estimated population of around 70,000 people — has been virtually emptied of civilians over months of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
The frontline situation is “the toughest in the Bakhmut direction,” the head of Ukraine’s armed forces Valery Zaluzhny said after a phone call with Britain’s Chief of the Defense Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin.
“Due to the tremendous efforts of the Defense Forces, we are managing to stabilize the situation,” Zaluzhny said on Facebook.
Russian forces have been posting painstakingly incremental gains around the city, whose symbolic importance surpassed any military significance as the battle dragged on.
Bakhmut has been virtually emptied of civilians over months of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
According to the British Defense Ministry’s latest intelligence update on Saturday, Russia’s assault on Bakhmut “has largely stalled.”
“This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian forces,” the British statement read, adding that in the battle Ukraine had also “suffered heavy casualties.”
Senior Ukrainian military commander Oleksandr Syrsky said Thursday that a counter-attack could be launched soon against “exhausted” Russian forces near Bakhmut.
Syrsky’s statement came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced he had visited Ukrainian forces near the Bakhmut frontline Wednesday.
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Monday that his forces were in control of around 70 percent of the city.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has expressed concern to China over any provision of lethal aid to support Russia in its war against Ukraine during a meeting with her Chinese counterpart.
Her press office on Saturday detailed Mahuta’s cautionary remarks in Beijing, days after Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his trip to Moscow, a warm affair in which Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin praised each other and spoke of a profound friendship.
Mahuta’s four-day trip, which began Wednesday, was the first made by a New Zealand foreign minister to Beijing since 2018 but it came at an awkward time as Xi visited Moscow the same week to give Putin a diplomatic boost after the International Criminal Court said it wants to put him on trial for alleged war crimes.
On the Ukraine war, Mahuta reiterated her government’s condemnation of Moscow’s “illegal invasion” to her counterpart Qin Gang.