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Wagner and the Russian Army renew cooperation to take Bakhmut

Russia intensified its drive to capture Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, pushing Ukrainian forces further from the city center as explosions rocked Russian-held Melitopol, ahead of a Ukrainian counter-offensive targeted in the south. Was.

Bakhmut has seen months of intense fighting A bloody Russian onslaught came as the Ukrainian units defending the city were pushed back. Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ukrainian forces still held the western districts of the city, but they had been the target of particularly intense artillery fire since Wednesday.

According to the UK’s assessment, recent gains by Russia have come about due to better coordination between the Ministry of Defense and the forces overseen by the paramilitary Wagner Group, which routinely uses convicts recruited from Russian prisons alongside the military. is fighting

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During heavy fighting near Bakhmut Ukrainian artillery was fired towards the front line.


Kai Pfenbach/Reuters

been there Sharp tensions between Wagner and the Russian command in recent months. Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, publicly criticized Russia’s military leadership in February, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, accusing officials of withholding ammunition from their units. Mr. Prigozhin later said that Wagner had found the ammunition.

Wagner’s strength at Bakhmut was severely reduced after months of fighting, including commanders sending defectors on suicide attacks without any air or artillery cover. The UK said that the group’s forces continue to advance through Bakhmut, but are now receiving more active support from Russian air forces that have reinforced the northern and southern flanks of Russia’s military operation.

Ukraine has been under great pressure to release Bakhmut, where it has also suffered heavy losses of manpower and equipment. Nevertheless, the UK says that despite major issues supplying its forces in the city, the positions it has been forced to abandon have been able to return in an orderly manner.

Away from the battlefield, Ukraine is preparing its military for an expected counteroffensive in the coming weeks.

In his evening address on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to refer to the planned retaliation in an update about Thursday’s meeting with senior defense officials.

“Our actions will be powerful. We are preparing our people,” he said. “And we are very much waiting for the arms supplies promised by our partners.”

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Mourners attend a funeral service in Kiev for a Ukrainian soldier killed in Bakhmut.


Roman Pilipi/Getty Images

Kiev has stepped up attacks on the Russian-held city of Melitopol this month as it prepares the ground for an offensive targeting the south. Melitopol sits along a vital supply line to Crimea and is a potential prime target for operations to retake the Russian-held territory.

Melitopol’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov said in an interview on Ukrainian television that a huge explosion occurred on Friday morning in the area of ​​a train depot where the Russian military was storing and repairing military equipment.

“The morning started very badly for the enemy,” he said. “There was a loud explosion in the city, the sound of which was also heard in the surrounding villages.”

Mr Fedorov said the train depot, which allegedly holds Russian military equipment, has been severely damaged by a series of recent attacks, but continues to operate.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-based official in the nearby Zaporizhia region, which Russia claims as its territory but only partially controls, confirmed an explosion in Melitopol on Friday morning but said a A gas cylinder had exploded in the garage.

Photo Illustration: Adam Adada

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Friday that Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu would visit Russia next week for a meeting with Mr. Shoigu to discuss defense and security cooperation. the meeting is after the last month High-profile visit to Moscow Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

China has offered significant economic aid to Russia during the war, while the two countries have also increased joint military exercises, as Moscow seeks to overcome Western isolation by bringing its allies closer.

Russia’s Defense Ministry also announced on Friday that its Pacific Fleet has been put on high alert for surprise inspections.

Mr. Shoigu said the surprise checks included the Russian Air Force as well as military and logistics units. He said the exercise would involve the Pacific Fleet, which would launch missiles to destroy naval assault groups and simulated enemy ground targets. He said long-range aviation would also be involved and the readiness of strategic submarines to use weapons would be examined.

The aim of the exercise is to test Russia’s military’s preparedness to repel an enemy landing on the Pacific island of Sakhalin and the disputed southern Kuril Islands. Both Russia and Japan claim the islandsIn Japan it is known as the Northern Territories.

Meanwhile, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday, during which the two leaders are expected to discuss a resolution. end the war in ukraine,

write to Matthew Luxmoore at matthew.luxmoore@wsj.com and on Ann M. Simmons ann.simmons@wsj.com

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