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Ukraine prepares for new Russian Donbas push, says gains made in north

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Ukraine was preparing Monday for a new Russian push in the eastern Donbas region, as Kyiv said its army’s counterattack around Kharkiv had gained momentum.

Since failing to take the capital at the beginning of the invasion in late February, control of Donbas has become one of Moscow’s primary objectives — but Western intelligence has predicted its campaign will stall amid heavy losses and fierce resistance.

“The occupiers still do not want to admit that they are in a dead-end and their so-called ‘special operation’ has already gone bankrupt,” he added.

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Kyiv’s troops have made so much progress in the northern region that they have almost reached the border with Russia, according to interior ministry adviser Vadim Denisenko.

Arestovich said the Russian troops that had been pulled out were being sent towards Lugansk.

Severodonetsk is the easternmost city still held by Ukraine, and its fall would grant the Kremlin de facto control of Lugansk, one of two regions — along with Donetsk — that comprise Donbas.

To further deter the attack, Russian-occupied railway bridges leading to Severodonetsk were blown up, the Ukrainian military said on Facebook late Sunday, posting a video of a huge explosion taken from above.

For its part, Russia’s defence ministry claimed it had struck four artillery munitions depots in neighbouring Donetsk.

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– ‘Behind schedule’ –

Demoralised Russian troops had failed to make substantial gains and Moscow’s battle plan was “significantly behind schedule”, UK Defence Intelligence said.

Ukrainian commanders say they expect a turning point in their favour by August, but Western powers have cautioned the conflict will turn into a war of attrition stretching into next year.

“Ukraine can win this war,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg added.

Just hours after Finland’s announcement, Sweden’s ruling party said it was also in favour of joining, in another remarkable turnaround of political and public opinion.

Stoltenberg said the alliance would look to provide both countries with interim security guarantees while their applications are processed, including possibly by increasing troops in the region.

Ankara has accused both Sweden and Finland of harbouring Kurdish extremists, but Stoltenberg said it was not blocking their membership and was confident of finding common ground.

In apparent retaliation, it has pulled the plug on electricity supplies to Finland, with which it shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border.

On the ground in Ukraine, bitter fighting continued throughout the country.

No casualties were reported, and Ukrainian armed forces said they destroyed two cruise missiles over the region.

In the southeastern city of Mariupol, about 600 Ukrainian troops remained holed up in underground tunnels and bunkers under a steelworks there, fighting a rear-guard battle.

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In his address, Zelensky said “very complicated and delicate negotiations to save our people” in the vast Azovstal plant continued daily.

The United Nations and Red Cross helped to evacuate women, children and the elderly from the plant where they were sheltering earlier this month.

burs-reb/axn

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