Kramatorsk, Ukraine, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 21st Dec, 2022 ) :President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday visited Bakhmut, now the epicentre of fighting in Russia‘s nearly 10-month invasion, describing the war-battered city as Ukraine‘s frontline “fortress”.
The unannounced trip came as the Kremlin announced Russian leader Vladimir Putin will meet senior military officials Wednesday to weigh up Russia‘s full-scale assault on Ukraine so far and set goals for next year after a series a battlefield defeats.
And German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a telephone call to use his influence on Russia to stop the war in Ukrainehis office said.
“Here in Donbas, you’re protecting all of Ukraine… They will do everything they’ve done here in other towns of our country, because they don’t want anything Ukrainian to exist, I’m sure of that,” Zelensky told Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut.
“This is not just Bakhmut, this is fortress Bakhmut,” he said, handing out honours to Ukraine servicemen.
To gain control of the destroyed city, Russia is believed to have relied on mercenaries, prison conscripts and newly mobilised soldiers to send waves of attacks for months against Ukrainian positions.
The brutal trench warfare and artillery battles around Bakhmut– once known for its vineyards and cavernous salt mines — have flattened large portions of the city and its surroundings.
-‘Extremely difficult’- “Tomorrow is the winter equinox and the nights will get shorter. The darkest night will end with the dawn of our victory,” said deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar, who was also in Bakhmut.
The visit comes after Putin said earlier Tuesday that the situation in several territories of Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed but does not control militarily was “extremely difficult”.
In Septemberhe announced the annexation of four regions in the east and south of Ukraine after Moscow‘s proxies held referendums there, denounced as a sham by Kyiv and the West.
His troops never fully controlled any of the territories and last month were forced to retreat from the regional capital of the southern Kherson region after a months-long Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“The situation in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely difficult,” Putin told the Russian security services on their professional holiday.
Singling out those working in the “new regions of Russia“, he added that “the people living there, the citizens of Russiarely on you, on your protection”.
And at a ceremony in the Kremlin later Tuesday, the Russian leader handed awards to the Moscow-installed leaders of the regions.
“Our country has repeatedly faced challenges and defended its sovereignty. Today, Russia is once again facing the same challenge,” he said, referring to territories recaptured by Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Putin‘s meeting with defence officials would include a keynote message from Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on the “special military operation,” the expression Moscow uses to describe its invasion.
– PutinLukashenko meeting a ‘dance’ – Putin‘s comments came one day after his first visit in several years to neighbouring Belarus for talks with strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, who allowed Russian troops to use his country to launch their invasion of Ukraine in February.
Ukrainian military officials said there was a “gradually increasing” threat from Belarus but the foreign ministry dismissed the talks as political theatre, even though the leaders vowed deeper military cooperation.
“The Putin and Lukashenko meeting is another dance they have performed… no critical decisions were made. Whatever happens, we are ready for any scenario,” Ukraine‘s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during an online briefing.
Putin denied plans to absorb Belarus during the visit Monday but the two ex-Soviet allies vowed closer military cooperation going forward.
The Ukrainian presidency meanwhile said that Russian attacks across Ukraine had left five people dead including three in the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, and in the Kherson region.
The war has taken a significant toll on Ukraine‘s economy and the IMF said Monday it had approved an economic monitoring programme which could help Kyiv secure funding from donors, with the war-torn country needing more than $40 billion this year.