8 months ago

Ukraine's priority to hold the line as global security leaders gather

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Senior politicians and military leaders from around the world meet in Germany on Friday with Ukrainian officials expected to address the security conference as they try to fend off Russian missile strikes on cities and massed assaults on front lines.

Bolstered by tens of thousands of reservists, Russia has intensified ground attacks across southern and eastern Ukraine, and, as the first anniversary of its Feb 24 invasion nears, a major new Russian offensive appears to be taking shape, reports Reuters.

Russia rained missiles across Ukraine on Thursday and struck its largest oil refinery. Of at least 36 missiles that Russia fired about 16 were shot down, the air force said, a lower rate than normal.

Ukraine said the barrage included missiles that its air defences cannot shoot down, which will only add urgency to its appeals for more Western military support.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and US Vice President Kamala Harris are among many top officials attending the Munich Security Conference.

Last year's gathering took place days before the war began. As Russian troops massed on Ukraine's borders, Western leaders in Munich urged President Vladimir Putin not to invade and warned of dire consequences if he did.

This year, leaders will grapple with the consequences of Putin's decision to ignore their pleas and unleash the most devastating war in Europe since World War Two that has killed countless thousands and forced millions to flee.

Russian leaders will be notable by their absence at the conference, which runs until Sunday, but senior Ukrainian officials are expected to address it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address his priority was to hold off Russian attacks and get ready for an eventual Ukrainian counter-offensive.

"Holding the situation at the front and preparing for any enemy steps of escalation - that is the priority for the near future," he said.

NATO alliance officials this week discussed the need for more military hardware for Kyiv, and Britain and Poland agreed after their leaders met on Thursday that support should be stepped up.

US officials have advised Ukraine to hold off with any counter-offensive until the latest supply of US weaponry is in place and training has been provided.

The Ukraine military's general staff, in a Thursday evening report, said Russia had also shelled more than two dozen eastern and southern settlements.

There was no word from Russia on the missile strikes or shelling, and the battlefield reports could not be independently confirmed.


Russia's focus is on the small eastern city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, one of two regions making up the Donbas, Ukraine's industrial heartland now partially occupied by Russia.

In battles led by the Wagner mercenary group swelled by prison recruits, Russia has for months been pounding and encircling Bakhmut. Most of its pre-war population of about 70,000 people have left, leaving Ukrainian soldiers dug in.

"They are sending a lot of troops. I don't think that is sustainable for them," the Ukrainian 80th Air Assault Brigade's press officer, Taras Dzioba, said of the Russians.

"There are places where their bodies are just piled up. There is a trench where ... they just don't evacuate their wounded or killed."

Dzioba spoke to Reuters as he stood near a Howitzer battery outside a defensive bunker close to the Bakhmut front lines.

Its capture would give Russia a stepping stone to advance on two bigger Donetsk cities further west, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. But Ukraine and allies say seizing Bakhmut would be a pyrrhic victory given the months it has taken and the losses Russia has sustained.

In an interview with a pro-war military blogger, the head of the Wagner group predicted Russian forces would take weeks, if not months, to capture Bakhmut, depending on how many men Ukraine threw into the fight and how well his men were supplied.

In Munich, the war will reignite long-running debates on questions such as how much Europe should build up its own military capacity, how much it should rely on the United States for its security amid concerns Ukraine's crisis could spread.

Police in Moldova, where parliament on Thursday approved a new pro-Western government, said they again found missile debris near the border with Ukraine.

Meanwhile Belarus, which allowed Russia to use its territory to send troops into Ukraine at the beginning of the war, said it would only fight alongside its ally if it was attacked.

Germany said 1.1 million people arrived from Ukraine in 2022, exceeding a migrant influx of 2015-16.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen travelled to Ukraine, the first such visit during the war from Israel, which coordinates with Russia over strikes on suspected Iranian targets in Syria and has stopped short of pledging arms to Kyiv.

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