Russia threatens to step up attacks on western weapons in Ukraine


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Russia has threatened to step up its attacks on logistics centres and storage facilities for western weapons in Ukraine, in Moscow’s first direct response to the passage of US military aid for Kyiv.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that his country had “dispelled the myth of the superiority of western weaponry” as his forces held the initiative along the frontline and were advancing against outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces.

“Our high combat potential allows us to constantly rain fire on the enemy and stop him from holding the line of defence,” Shoigu said in his first response since the US House of Representatives last week passed a long-delayed bill allocating $61bn in military aid for Ukraine.

Russia would continue to increase production of its own advanced weaponry “in accordance with the threats posed by the US and its allies”, he said.

While Ukraine waits for the US Senate and President Joe Biden to approve the aid, both of which are expected to happen in the next few days, Russian forces have continued to pound Ukraine with missiles, drones and heavy artillery and have made some limited territorial gains.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy admitted on Saturday that his country “did lose the initiative” while awaiting for US military assistance. But he said that the injection of new arms and ammunition would give his struggling army “the chance to stabilise the situation”.

Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov on Monday said that the fight would only get tougher, with Russian forces intensifying their attacks through mid-May in what he described as a “comprehensive operation”.

A blunder during a recent rotation of Ukrainian forces has allowed Russian troops to make a swift 5km gain on the battlefield and move towards Ukraine’s newly fortified defensive line, according to Ukrainian military analysts.

The situation unfolded in the village of Ocheretyne, west of the Russian-controlled city of Avdiivka, which fell in February.

“Unfortunately, the enemy managed to take advantage of the situation,” wrote Deep State, a Ukrainian analytical group close to the defence ministry. Its map on Tuesday showed much of Ocheretyne under Russian forces’ control, something of great concern to Kyiv.

“If the enemy manages to capture Ocheretyne, they will bypass the northern flank of the new Ukrainian defence line, which runs down along the Durna river,” the Centre for Defence Strategies, a Kyiv-based security think-tank, wrote in an assessment.

“Russian command is pushing to keep up momentum on the Avdiivka front,” it said, adding that Moscow had brought reinforcements from other parts along the frontline to back up the troops advancing towards Ocheretyne.

North of Ocheretyne, up to 25,000 Russian forces were focusing much of their efforts on capturing the strategic town of Chasiv Yar, said Nazar Voloshyn, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s ground forces in the east.

If Russian troops were to take control of the town, which sits on high ground in the eastern Donetsk region, they would have a strong foothold from which they could launch new assaults on the garrison cities of Kostyantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. Russia would also gain firing positions over important highways and a railway line connecting those cities to Kyiv.

Chasiv Yar lies 15km west of Bakhmut, which fell to Moscow’s troops after a grinding months-long battle and was the most significant victory for Russia last year.

The Kremlin has projected increasing confidence that Russia can win the war in Ukraine more than two years since President Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of the country.

After its initial blitzkrieg failed spectacularly, Russia has swung behind a war of attrition using its superior numbers and firepower to wear down Ukraine’s defences.

Ukrainian commanders on the eastern battlefield told the Financial Times this month that Russia’s army had learned from its earlier mistakes and adapted, and was appearing more like the powerful army that many had initially assessed it to be.

Russia’s defence ministry would supply the army with the new S-500 air-defence and long-range missile system and new radar stations this year, Shoigu said, as well as ramping up production of existing anti-air defence systems such as the S-400 and Pantsyr.

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