- Kyiv enforces strict operational silence
- Zelensky confirms “counter-attack and defensive measures”
- Ukraine’s president says his generals are in a ‘positive mood’
- A Ukrainian official said there are no announcements pending clarity
KIEV (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted on Saturday that his military was engaged in “offensive and defensive counter-operations”, a day after Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin said Kiev’s long-vaunted campaign to regain control of territory was in full swing.
But the Ukrainian leader did not reveal any details, telling reporters to convey to Putin that his generals are optimistic.
Zelensky, in his trademark khaki overalls, shrugged his shoulders at a news conference when asked about Putin’s comments on Friday that Kiev had begun its counterattack but had not made any progress.
“Offensive and defensive operations are taking place in Ukraine, but I will not say in detail what stage they have reached,” Zelensky said.
“They (the generals) are all in a positive mood. Pass that along to Putin,” he said with a smile, standing next to visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He said Putin’s comments about the counterattack were “interesting…and it’s important that Russia has always felt this: In my opinion, they don’t have much time left.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces had made “unsuccessful” attempts to attack in the southern regions of Donetsk and Zaporizhia – two areas prone to heavy fighting.
The ministry also referred to the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Moscow says it captured last month after ten months of fierce battles.
Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the battlefield.
In his nightly video address, Zelensky again provided few details while urging the troops to keep fighting.
“Thank you to everyone who occupies their positions and advances,” he said, citing the eastern and southern fronts, where the fighting is intensifying.
The Ukrainian General Staff said its forces had repulsed hostile attacks around Bakhmut and the long-besieged town of Marinka. She added that the Russian forces “are still suffering heavy losses that they are trying to hide.”
Gen. Oleksandr Sersky, the ground forces commander who controls counter-offensive operations, posted a photo on social media of an explosion he said destroyed a group of Russian soldiers near Bakhmut.
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Chervaty announced new gains near Bakhmut.
“We are trying to … strike the enemy, and we are making counterattacks. We have been able to advance up to 1,400 meters (0.87 miles) on different sections of the front,” said Cherevatyi.
Ukraine has said for months that it is planning a major counterattack. But she denied starting the main operation.
With so few independent reports from the front lines, it was difficult to assess the state of the fighting.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Ukraine had conducted “significant” operations in several eastern and southern parts of the past 48 hours, with Russian defenses breached in some places.
Some Progress: UK Foreign Office
“In some areas, Ukrainian forces likely made good progress and broke through the first line of Russian defences. In other areas, Ukrainian advances were slower,” the report said, also describing the performance of the Russian army as mixed.
“It is likely that some (Russian) units conducted credible maneuver defensive operations while others withdrew in some disarray, amid mounting reports of Russian casualties as they retreated through their own minefields.”
The Ukrainian counter-offensive is expected to use thousands of soldiers who have been trained and equipped by the West, but Russia has erected massive fortifications in the occupied territories in preparation for it, while Kiev also lacks air supremacy.
The south is seen as a key strategic priority for a Ukrainian wave that might aim to retake Europe’s largest nuclear reactor and cut off the Russian land bridge to occupied Crimea on the Black Sea, splitting Russian forces.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleksiy Hetman told Radio NV that the events of recent days were only preliminary steps.
“What is happening now can be called” reconnaissance in battle “- the first stage of the offensive,” said Hetman. “It was impossible to advance in depth. The aim was to check the enemy defences. Let us wait a few days and see.”
(Reporting by Tom Palmforth and Felix Huskey) Editing by Alex Richardson, Andrew Cawthorne, Mike Harrison, Ron Popeski and Cynthia Osterman
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