According to one of President Zelensky’s most senior advisers, the Ukrainian counter-offensive to oust Russian troops from the region has begun.
Mikhail Podolyak, head of the presidential office, said today that activities to promote Russia return to the border of Ukraine has been underway “for several days”.
Talk to Italians Radio Rai1 station, Mr. Podolyak said: “It was a fierce battle on the 1500km border, but the action has already begun.”
It’s not clear what action he was referring to, but Ukrainian troops are known to be attacking around Bakhmut’s flank in an attempt to encircle the city.
Mr Podolyak added: “This is not a ‘single event’ that will begin at a specific hour of a particular day with a solemn ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“These are dozens of different actions aimed at destroying the occupying Russian forces in different directions, which took place yesterday, are happening today and will continue tomorrow.
“Forcibly destroying the enemy’s logistics is also a counterattack.”
Prigozhin, the commander of Wagner’s group, said his men would leave Bakhmut by June 1 after a year-long battle to capture the city.
Prigozhin said the defense would be left to elements of the Russian regular army, which he had previously criticized for giving up its position in the face of Ukrainian attacks.
Bakhmut, a crossroads city in the Donbass, has little tactical significance but has become politically important to both sides as they try to present themselves as on the road to victory.
Ukraine denied that Russia was in complete control of the city, with General Oleksandr Syrskyi – the head of Ukraine’s ground forces – saying his men were trying to encircle troops stationed there.
Podolyak’s words also come amid an increase in attacks on Russian positions, including Britain’s Storm Shadow long-range cruise missile.
Ukraine claims that ammunition depots, troop concentrations, command posts and artillery positions are regularly hit in what military experts call “shaping operations” ahead of the attack.
Kiev Allies are also continuing to increase support for Ukraine, including a coalition of nations to supply F-16 fighter jets to the country’s air force.
The UK has agreed to train Ukrainian pilots to use the jet President Zelensky has been required since the first weeks of the war.
“The paradox is that if we had had them a year ago the war would have ended.”
Ukraine has been promising a spring offensive for months, as experts warn of the dangers of doing it too soon.
It is assumed that they will use the new Western tanks to break through the Russian defenses in a Desert Storm-style attack.
War analysts at Conflict Intelligence Team said the main goal of the new counterattack would be to “unblock” Bakhmut.
“These vehicles are already present on the territory of Ukraine under the use of the Ukrainian army and may be used in combat in the nearest future,” the team wrote in their situation report on August 1. March 28.
“We assume that the main goal of the Ukrainian counter-attack will be to unblock Bakhmut.”
Other analysts suggest that Ukraine may try to break through in Zaporizhzhia, cutting off Russia’s vital land bridge to Crimea.
That would open the door to a full-scale offensive to retake the peninsula that Putin annexed in 2014.