Following months of fierce fighting, the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut may soon fall to Russia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Wednesday.
In the midst of the longest battle since Moscow’s invasion, the Wagner mercenary group, which has led the assault on Bakhmut, claimed to have taken control of the eastern bank of the industrial town when he made those remarks.
EU ministers met in Stockholm to discuss strategies for increasing defense production and sending more ammunition to Ukraine, which consumes thousands of howitzer shells every day.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner and a Kremlin ally, declared on social media on Wednesday that his troops had “taken all of the eastern part of Bakhmut,” a salt mining town with 80,000 residents before the war.
The protracted and bloodiest fighting in Russia’s more than year-long invasion, which has destroyed large portions of Ukraine and forced millions of people from their homes, has occurred around Bakhmut.
“What we see is that Russia is sending more troops and more forces. What Russia lacks in quality, they try to make up for in quantity,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Stockholm on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defense ministers.
Despite the fact that “this does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war,” the commander of the US-led military alliance stated that “we cannot rule out” that Bakhmut will ultimately fall in the upcoming days.
The Russian military “could go further”
In a CNN interview, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky forewarned of the potential consequences if Bakhmut was captured by Russian forces.
We are aware that (Russian forces) “could go further after Bakhmut” and assault nearby cities in the Donetsk region.
In an interview that will air on Wednesday, Zelensky said, “They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be an open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction.
Taking control of the city would allow for “further offensive operations” in eastern Ukraine, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said to military officials during a live broadcast of a meeting on Tuesday.
According to Prigozhin, the town was still being defended by “12,000 to 20,000” Ukrainian soldiers.
According to Zelensky, his armed forces were committed to remaining in Bakhmut.
“Of course, we must consider the lives of our military personnel. However, we must take whatever action we can while obtaining weapons and supplies and while preparing our army for the counteroffensive.”
Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence for the US, expressed optimism in Washington about the medium term.
At a Senate hearing, Haines stated, “We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains.
On Wednesday, Zelensky welcomed Antonio Guterres, the head of the UN, to Kyiv for his third trip to the country since Russia’s invasion. The agreement that has permitted Ukraine to export its grain but is set to expire was emphasized by Guterres as a necessity.
I want to emphasize how crucially important the Black Sea Grain Initiative rollover on March 18 is, Guterres said.
As pressure mounts on Kyiv’s allies to increase supplies to the war effort, EU defense ministers are meeting in Stockholm to discuss a plan to send one billion euros’ worth of ammunition to Ukraine immediately.
The 155-millimeter howitzer shells are critically short, according to Kyiv’s Western backers, despite firing thousands of them daily to combat the relentless Russian offensive.
We must increase production because the rate of ammunition consumption relative to the rate of production is not sustainable, according to Stoltenberg.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, reaffirmed Tuesday that Europe is determined to resist Russian aggression.
The sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year was allegedly carried out by a “pro-Ukrainian group,” according to a report in The New York Times published on Tuesday. This could cause difficult discussions among the allies.
“This is not our activity,” said Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in Stockholm.
Praise be to Ukraine
On Wednesday, Ukraine announced that the man who was fatally shot in a video that caused outrage on social media was one of its soldiers.
The video shows what looks like a captured Ukrainian soldier standing in a shallow trench and smoking. He then says “Glory to Ukraine” and is shot.
According to a preliminary review, we think the video might be real, a UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman told AFP on Wednesday.
The “shocking” video, according to Guterres, was “yet another tragic reminder that the laws of war must be strictly observed,” he said in Kyiv.
Although neither side has provided numbers, both have claimed that the Bakhmut battle has cost a sizable number of troops.
The town, which has been all but destroyed, is still home to about 4,000 civilians, according to Ukrainian officials, including dozens of children.
The EU General Court ruled that there was not enough evidence against Prigozhin’s mother to support such measures, even if the Wagner chief was accountable for illegal activities in Ukraine. As a result, the sanctions imposed by Brussels against her were revoked.