A Russian tank T-72B3 fires as troops take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Russia has rejected Western complaints about its troop buildup near Ukraine, saying it deploys them wherever it deems necessary on its own territory. (AP Photo)

(Reuters) – A major Russian offensive advanced hundreds of meters in a new assault on a Ukrainian-controlled stronghold in southeastern Ukraine this week, although it is unlikely to force a significant advance there, the United Kingdom said on Tuesday.

Russian officials claimed that the advance had secured a position in the coal mining town of Vuhledar. Kiev has acknowledged the intense fighting in the region, but said it has repelled the attack so far, while inflicting heavy losses on the attackers.

In an intelligence update offering rare battlefield details, the UK said Russia was attacking the city with a force at least the size of a brigade, a unit that typically comprises several thousand troops with a full range of capabilities.

So far, the Russians have probably advanced from the south several hundred meters beyond the Kashlahach River, which they say has marked the front line for months. The small river flows through the town of Pavlivka, about two kilometers south of Vuhledar.

“There is a realistic possibility that Russia will continue to make local gains in the sector. However, it is unlikely that Russia has enough uncommitted troops in the area to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough.”

The UK added that Russian commanders are likely trying to develop a new axis of advance, as well as divert Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut, a city further north that has been the main focus of the Russian offensive for months.

Reuters could not independently confirm the situation in the area.

Vuhledar is at the southern end of the eastern front in Ukraine, near the railway lines that supply Russian forces on the adjacent southern front. Ukraine has repelled several Russian attacks on the town since the war began 11 months ago.

The Russian attack comes after Moscow has made significant advances around Bakhmut in the past two weeks, its biggest gains since Ukraine regained large portions of territory in the second half of 2022.

Military experts say Moscow is determined to make gains in Ukraine in the coming months, before Kiev receives hundreds of newly promised Western tanks and armored vehicles for a counterattack aimed at recapturing occupied territory this year.

Bakhmut, a city once home to 100,000 people, looks increasingly vulnerable after Russia captured the northern salt mining town of Soledar about a week ago. Moscow says it has made substantial gains in both the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut; Kiev says the city itself is not yet in danger of falling, but the struggle there is tough.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described Russia’s attack in the east as an attempt at “revenge” for its previous defeats.

“And I don’t think they will be able to provide their society with any convincing positive results in the offensive. I am confident in our Army. We will stop them all, bit by bit, destroy them and prepare our great counteroffensive,” he said on Monday.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***

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