- Russia seeks to encircle Ukrainian forces
- Kiev says 25 battalions were involved in the attack
- Germany says Putin should not impose any peace rules
KYIV / SVITLODARSK, Ukraine, May 26 (Reuters) – Advancing Russian forces approached Ukrainian troops surrounding the east and briefly captured positions on the last highway from a key pair of Ukrainian-controlled cities. Said Thursday.
Russia has amassed thousands of troops in its offensive in the eastern Donbass region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces in Siverodonetsk and Lychee. The fall of the cities would bring almost the entire province of Luhansk under Russian control, a major Kremlin war objective.
The governor of Luhansk province Serhiy Gaidai acknowledged the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces, but said that the last road out of the Livyansky and Siverodonetsk, which crosses the Shivarsky Donets River, was out of Russian control.
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In an interview posted on social media, Kaitoi said that “about 50” Russian soldiers had reached the highway connecting the Ukrainian-controlled Baghmut and “managed to set foot there for some time. They also set up a checkpoint there.”
“The checkpoint was broken into and they were thrown back. That means the Russian army is not controlling the route now, but they are shelling it,” he added.
“From day one, the entire area and all levels of the army have been shelled. Many of our fortifications have been destroyed,” Kaidai said. “It’s clear that our boys are slowly retreating to more fortified positions – we need to stop this crowd.”
He also pointed to the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces, saying the troops “could leave one settlement, perhaps two. We must win the war, not the war.”
Western military analysts see the war for two cities as a possible turning point in the war, and Russia has now defined its main objective as capturing the east.
Further south, Russian-controlled Reuters journalists saw evidence of Moscow’s progress in the city of Svitlodarsk, where Ukrainian forces retreated earlier this week.
The city is now under the firm control of pro-Russian militants, who have occupied the local government building and hung a red flag with a Soviet hammer and sickle on the door.
Drone shots taken by Reuters journalists on a nearby abandoned battlefield showed numerous ditches representing a lush field surrounded by dilapidated buildings. Pro-Russian militants were circling the trenches.
Russia’s recent gains in the Donbass suggest a reversal of momentum on the battlefield weeks after Ukrainian forces advanced near Kharkiv in the northeast, following the surrender of the Ukrainian garrison in Mariupol.
Michael Kaufman, a security analyst and director of Russian research at the US – based CNA think tank, tweeted: “Recent Russian gains provide a sobering verification of expectations for the near future.”
He writes that Russian troops are threatening to break Ukrainian lines and encircle Ukrainian forces in Bopasna, south of Siverodonetsk.
“The extent to which this development in Bopasna threatens the overall situation in Ukraine depends on whether or not Russian forces gain momentum. It depends on the force reserves, reserves and logistics to support this progress.”
Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadim Denisenko said the situation was “very tense” as 25 Russian battalions tried to encircle Ukrainian forces. There are about 800 troops in a battalion with a full force.
“Now everything is focused on Donbass.”
Houses were demolished
Within three months of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia dropped its attack on the capital, Kiev, and sought to consolidate control of the industrial eastern Donbass region, which has supported the separatist insurgency since 2014.
Russian progress was supported by massive artillery shelling. The Ukrainian armed forces say more than 40 cities in the region have been shelled and destroyed or damaged 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school, in the past 24 hours.
Global attention has been focused this week on Russia’s siege of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which has halted exports to one of the world’s largest grain and cooking oil suppliers. The United Nations says the ban will exacerbate global hunger.
Western nations have called for the lifting of the embargo on Moscow. Russia says Western sanctions on Russia are to blame for the food crisis, although it does not explain how it could link Ukrainian ports to a naval siege.
“We do not explicitly accept these allegations. Instead, we blame the West for the actions that led to it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news conference on Thursday.
Peskov said Moscow expects Ukraine to accept its demands in any future peace talks. It demanded that Kyiv accept Russian sovereignty over Moscow’s Crimean peninsula, which was captured in 2014, and recognize the independence of the territory claimed by the separatists.
Kiev rejects those demands. Speaking to dignitaries in Davos, Switzerland, German Chancellor Olaf Scholes said Russian President Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to dictate the terms of any peace agreement.
“There will be no ordered peace,” Scholes said. “Ukraine will not accept this, nor will we.”
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Additional report by Max Hunter in Kiev and Reuters journalists in Svitlodorsk by Peter Groff by Gareth Jones
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