Russia Wages New Offensive Against Ukraine

The eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on Monday endured heavy artillery fire. The Ukrainian military reported Russian shelling all along the front line and said 16 settlements had been bombarded near Bakhmut.

Ukrainian fighters, who have already held out there for months, are bracing for new ground attacks, Ukrainian military officials said. 

Bakhmut is a prime objective for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and its capture would give Russia a new foothold in the Donetsk region and a rare victory after several months of setbacks. The Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland now partially occupied by Russia, which wants full control. 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said a new major Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has already begun as the anniversary of Russia’s February 24 invasion approaches. 

“It is clear that we are in a race of logistics,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels. “Key capabilities like ammunition, fuel and spare parts must reach Ukraine before Russia can seize the initiative on the battlefield. Speed will save lives,” he stressed. 

Stoltenberg said Ukraine’s use of ammunition in the war against Russia is outstripping supply and that the alliance needs to increase production to meet Ukraine’s needs.  

The NATO chief made these comments one day before the ninth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, known informally as the Ramstein summit, set to take place in the Belgian capital.  

NATO’s call for an increase in ammunition production is expected to dominate the discussions on Tuesday. Stoltenberg said the contentious issue of providing modern combat aircraft to Ukraine would be discussed, as well. 

The Russian assault on Bakhmut has been headed by mercenaries of the Wagner paramilitary group. The renewed Russian shelling has made the situation even more tense. 

“The city, the city’s suburbs, the entire perimeter and essentially the entire Bakhmut direction and Kostyantynivka, are under crazy, chaotic shelling,” said Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Svoboda battalion.

The head of the Wagner Group claimed Sunday to have taken control of Krasna Hora, a village a few kilometers north of Bakhmut. 

Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, denied Russian claims that Krasna Hora had been captured.

“There are ongoing battles there,” Cherevatyi said. “We are keeping it under our control,” he told CNN. “We have the ability to supply weapons, food, equipment, medicines, and to evacuate the wounded from there,” he added. 

A report by Britain’s Ministry of Defense says that as of February 7, Russia had likely further strengthened defense fortifications in the central part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, in particular near the town of Tarasivka.

Russian forces have also established defensive fortifications between the towns of Vasylivka and Orihiv in the same region as of January 8.  

Russia has “highly likely” restarted major offensive operations in Ukraine aiming to capture the remaining Ukrainian-controlled parts of Donetsk Oblast.

Russia’s front line in Ukraine is approximately 1,288 kilometers, with the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast front line amounting to 192 kilometers, the report adds.

A significant breakthrough by Ukrainian troops in Zaporizhzhia Oblast would “seriously challenge” the viability of the Russian “land bridge” connecting its Rostov region and occupied Crimea, the ministry wrote in its latest intelligence update.  

Wagner’s private army is pushing hard to give Russia battlefield wins in Ukraine, but mounting evidence suggests the Kremlin has moved to curb what it sees as the excessive political clout of Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group. 

Recently, Prigozhin, a 61-year-old ex-convict, grabbed headlines over his bloody role in Ukraine. Wagner has openly criticized Russia’s top military brass and tried to win the Kremlin’s favor through his group’s battlefield success.  

Prigozhin’s public prominence has created speculation among analysts that he is eyeing an official role in politics. 

There is growing evidence though, that the Kremlin has moved to nip such speculation in the bud, ordering Prigozhin to halt public criticism of the Defense Ministry while advising state media to stop mentioning him or Wagner by name.  

“The position of the [Kremlin] political bloc is not to let him into politics. They are a little afraid of him and find him an inconvenient person,” Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser who remains close to the authorities, told the Reuters news agency. 

Prigozhin confirmed last week he had also been stripped of the right to recruit convicts from prisons — a key element of his growing political influence and one which had bolstered his forces to make small but steady gains in eastern Ukraine.  

Moldova coup attempt

The president of Moldova accused Russia on Monday of planning to use foreign saboteurs to bring down her leadership and break Moldova’s path to Europe. Moldova has been granted candidate status in the European Union. Moldova’s breakaway region, Transnistria, has survived for three decades with support from Moscow.

President Maia Sandu made her comments after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that his country had uncovered a Russian intelligence plan “for the destruction of Moldova.” Days later, the government of the country, which borders Ukraine and Romania, resigned.

Responding to reporters during the White House briefing on Monday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S government is concerned over reports of Russia’s attempts to influence the pro-European government of Moldova.

“We absolutely stand with the modern Moldovan government and the Moldovan people,” he said.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.   

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