(Reuters) – Russian forces shelled Ukrainian troops and towns along the frontline in the Donetsk region on Tuesday in what appeared to be the first salvoes of a new offensive, as Western allies met in Brussels to plan for increased arms supplies to the government in Kiev.
The town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, the main target of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invading army, was in a precarious position.
“There is not a single square meter in Bakhmut that is safe or not in range of enemy fire or drones,” regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukraine’s national broadcaster.
He said Russian artillery was hitting targets along the front lines in Donetsk, which along with the Luhansk region makes up Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland and one of the Russians’ main objectives.
As the first anniversary of the invasion approaches, the Kremlin has stepped up operations in a wide area of southern and eastern Ukraine, and a major new offensive has been widely anticipated.
Ahead of a meeting of defense ministers of the Western military alliance North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Western countries need to increase ammunition supplies to Kiev.
“We see no signs that President Putin is preparing for peace. What we see is the opposite, he is preparing for more war, for new offensives and new attacks,” he told reporters.
Ukraine’s military said Tuesday that its forces repelled attacks on five settlements in Luhansk and six in Donetsk, including Bakhmut, in the past 24 hours.
They also repelled an attack on a town in the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia in northeastern Ukraine.
“The situation is difficult as a whole, but controlled,” Kyrylenko said. “The enemy has not been able to achieve tactical or strategic success there.”
The Russian attack on Bakhmut has been led by mercenaries from the Wagner group. The UK said Tuesday that the mercenaries made small gains in the northern outskirts over the past three days, but an advance south of Bakhmut likely had little progress.
The capture of Bakhmut would provide a springboard for Russia to advance on two larger cities in Donetsk — Kramatorsk and Sloviansk — and would give Russia a new boost after months of setbacks following its invasion on February 24 last year.
Russia now controls swaths of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south, including its nuclear power plant, almost all of Luhansk, and more than half of Donetsk, including the regional capital. Despite not fully controlling any of the four regions, Moscow claims to have annexed all of them.
With Ukraine desperate for more weapons, including fighter jets and long-range missiles, ministers from several NATO countries and Ukraine’s other allies in the so-called Ramstein group were meeting in Brussels to discuss further military aid.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed that Washington and NATO stand with Ukraine for the long term.
“This shared resolve will sustain Ukraine’s momentum in the weeks ahead,” Austin said in Brussels.
Kremlin says NATO more involved in Ukraine conflict
The Kremlin said Tuesday that the Western military alliance North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), led by the United States, demonstrates its hostility toward Russia on a daily basis and is becoming increasingly involved in the conflict in Ukraine.
“NATO is an organization that is hostile to us and proves this hostility every day,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“It is trying its best to make its involvement in the conflict around Ukraine as clear as possible,” Peskov added.
Moscow has said that arms supplies to Ukraine by NATO countries are prolonging the conflict and raising the possibility of further escalation. Kiev and the West say deliveries of advanced military hardware are crucial to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian offensive.
*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***