- 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 significant battlefield advance in six months on Monday as President Volodymyr Zelensky won a pledge in Britain for new long-range drones to bolster Western arms for a counteroffensive against Russian aggressors. .
Since last week, the Ukrainian military has begun pushing back Russian forces in and around the stricken city of Baghmut. Its first significant offensive operations since its troops captured 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.”
In an update on the battlefield on Monday evening, Ukraine’s Army General Staff said Russian forces, backed by heavy shelling, were pressing efforts to gain ground but had failed to advance around the village of Ivanivske on the city’s western edges.
The Battle of Bagmut became 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 gone 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 counteroffensive, using hundreds of new tanks and armored vehicles sent by the West since early 2023 to recapture Moscow’s alleged annexation of Ukraine’s sixth region.
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, followed by a pledge of drones with a range of up to 200 km (125 miles) during Zelensky’s visit.
Sunak’s government says it will soon begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly fighter jets. In an interview with France’s TF1 television, French President Emmanuel Macron said France was ready to train Ukrainian pilots, but that he and Zelensky had not discussed providing fighter jets.
“I didn’t talk about planes. I talked about missiles. I talked about training,” Macron said.
Zelenskiy described the new weapons promised by the Europeans as “important and powerful”.
“We are returning home with new military aid. New and powerful weapons for the front, more security for our people, more political support…” he said in a video address that took him from the train back to Kiev.
Sunak said the war was at a “pivotal moment” and Britain would be determined. “It’s important for the Kremlin to know that we’re not going away. We’re here for the long haul.”
The Kremlin said it did not believe it would change the course of the so-called “special military operation” to eliminate security threats posed by the Kremlin’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 Kyiv a year ago and recaptured the ground in the second half of 2022, but have withstood a punishing Russian offensive while waiting for weapons to arrive.
Ukrainian officials generally do not talk about the details of the ongoing offensive, but have reported significant territorial gains in the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut over the past week.
Moscow agreed to retreat north of the city, and the head of Wagner’s private army, fighting inside Baghmut, claimed that Russian regular forces had withdrawn from the northern and southern flanks.
Ukrainian officials portray the fighting in the area as localized developments, with no major counteroffensive yet.
A report by a respected Russian news outlet on Saturday that four Russian military aircraft had been shot down near the borders of Belarus and Ukraine was inadvertently confirmed by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday.
“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. According to the Bull Pervovo Telegram channel, an air force command post reports on Lukashenko’s activities.
There was no official response from Ukraine. 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 the invasion, although Lukashenko insisted that Belarus did not take part in the war and did not send troops to fight Russian forces.
Written by Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich
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