Ukraine says fighting has “intensified” in the east of the country, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Kiev’s counter-offensive a failure.
A senior Ukrainian defense official said on Sunday that Russian and Ukrainian forces are clashing in at least three areas on the eastern front.
Deputy Defense Minister Hana Malyar said in a Telegram that Russian forces have been attacking in the direction of Kobyansk in the Kharkiv region for two consecutive days.
“We are on the defensive,” Maliar wrote. There are fierce battles. The positions of the two sides change dynamically several times a day.
Malyar also said that the two armies clashed around the ruined town of Bakhmut, but that Ukrainian forces were “gradually advancing” along its southern flank.
He added that Kiev forces are also repelling Russian attacks near Avdiivka and Marinka.
Reporting from Kostyantynivka, about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Bakhmut, Al Jazeera’s Asad Bek said Maliar’s description of fierce fighting and changing locations was “sobering”.
“This is very blunt from the Ukrainian deputy defense minister, because usually what we hear is about Ukraine advancing, but what we hear from the Ukrainians is that the Russians are fighting back,” Page said.
In an excerpt from an interview published on Sunday, Putin said the Ukrainian military had made no progress in its counter-offensive, which aims to retake occupied territories and take the lead in the all-out invasion of Russia, now in its 17th round. Month. .
“All the enemy’s attempts to break through our defenses (…) have not succeeded since the beginning of the attack. “The enemy has not succeeded,” Putin said in a video clip published by Rossiya TV correspondent Pavel Zarubin.
Last month, Ukraine launched its planned counter-offensive after stockpiling Western weapons and boosting its offensive forces.
But he acknowledged that there were tough battles ahead and called on the United States and other allies to provide long-range weapons and artillery.
Putin also said that Russia has “sufficient stocks” of cluster bombs and that Moscow reserves the right to use them if such munitions are used against Russian forces in Ukraine.
In his first comments on the delivery of cluster munitions to Ukraine from the United States, Putin said that Russia had not yet used cluster munitions in its war in Ukraine. “So far we haven’t done it, we haven’t used it and we haven’t had such a need,” he said.
However, in April 2022, Russia was accused of using cluster munitions in the Kramatorsk train station attack, which killed 63 civilians, including nine children.
The end of the cereal agreement is in sight
Putin has yet to announce whether Moscow will renew the grain deal that allowed Ukrainian exports across the Black Sea to resume, which were halted when the invasion began in February 2022.
The agreement, which is set to expire on Monday evening, was mediated by the United Nations and Turkey and was signed by Russia and Ukraine in July 2022 to establish a protected sea corridor through which Ukrainian agricultural products can reach global markets.
However, Russia says hurdles remain to its exports and has threatened to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
The Kremlin said on Saturday that Russia remains concerned about the deal.
“Vladimir Putin emphasized that commitments (…) to remove obstacles to the export of Russian food and fertilizer products have not been fulfilled,” the Kremlin press release notes.
“The main objective of the agreement, which is to provide grain to countries in need, including the African continent, has not been implemented,” she said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres supports removing barriers to Russian fertilizer exports, and sent a message to Putin about it on Tuesday.
By ensuring the safety of maritime traffic in the Black Sea — as well as inspections to counter arms shipments — the agreement has allowed for the export of nearly 33 million tons of grain since it entered into force on August 1, 2022. Most of the shipments consisted of wheat and corn.
The deal helped lower prices, which had spiked after the Russian invasion, and avert starvation in countries heavily dependent on imports.