The long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian troops is under way, according to presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.
“The counteroffensive has been going on for days,” he said during an interview with Italian television on Wednesday evening.
“This is an intense war along a 1,500-kilometre border. Our actions have already begun,” Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, added, according to the Italian translation.
At the same time, he denied that Kiev was involved in the attacks in the Russian region of Belgorod.
Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin are not even capable of defending their own territory, Podolyak said, referring to the fighting in the area. “What is happening in the border region is a shock to Putin and will lead to his end.”
The adviser went on to say that Ukraine did not want to attack Russian territory. Addressing the Italian journalist, he said: “We are using the weapons you gave us to destroy Russian positions in Moscow-occupied territories, Donbass and Crimea included.”
If F-16 fighter jets were delivered, Ukraine’s airspace could “finally” be closed, Podolyak said.
Meanwhile, troops from the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries have begun withdrawing from positions in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine to rest and prepare for their next deployment, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video report.
Russian regulars are to take over the ruined city completely by June 1, Prigozhin said, with two experienced Wagner mercenaries remaining in the city to support the Russian army.
Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed that Wagner troops were being replaced by Russian regulars in the suburbs of Bakhmut, but added that Prigozhin’s mercenaries were still in the city itself. Ukrainian forces remained in control of suburbs in the south-west of Bakhmut, she said.
Russian forces were using artillery to halt advances by Ukrainian troops on the flanks and were gathering additional troops, she said.
Maliar added that Russian advances in different directions had been repelled.
It is often not possible to independently verify such claims from the war zone.
United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday praised Germany’s increased military aid to Ukraine during an online meeting of the international group coordinating arms deliveries to the embattled country.
“Germany pledged to provide Ukraine with more Leopard tanks, ammunition, combat drones, and more, in a package worth nearly $3 billion. That reflects Germany’s drive to meet Ukraine’s near-term needs, and Germany’s investment for the long haul,” Austin said during his opening remarks of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting.
The German government promised Ukraine the arms package in mid-May shortly before a visit to Germany by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The military aid package includes the delivery of 20 more Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 30 Leopard-1 tanks and four IRIS-T-SLM air defence systems.
The Ukrainian military said it fended off all Russia’s latest overnight drone attacks on the country, which has been fighting against a full-scale Russian invasion for more than 15 months.
“A one hundred per cent result. 36 out of 36,” wrote the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, Mykola Oleshchuk, on Telegram on Thursday, praising the Ukrainian air defences for their work.
Meanwile, the Kremlin has accused Ukraine of plotting to attack high-voltage power lines at two nuclear power plants in northern Russia.