Vladimir Putin’s forces advance on key city but bid to encircle swathe of east Ukraine stalled

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Vladimir Putin’s forces advance on key city but bid to encircle swathe of east Ukraine stalled
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Vladimir Putin’s troops have advanced around three miles in recent days in their battle for a key city but his broader aim of encircling a swathe of eastern Ukraine remains “stalled,” British defence chiefs said on Thursday.

They stressed that Russian forces were moving towards the “southern approaches” of Lysychansk.

Some Ukrainian military units had withdrawn rather than be encircled and captured, they added.

The limited Russian success is believed to be down to pouring more troops into the battle and heavy bombardments.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence in London said: “Since 19 June, Russian forces have highly likely advanced over 5km (3.1 miles) towards the southern approaches of the Donbas city of Lysychansk.

“Some Ukrainian units have withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled. Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire.”

It added: “Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sieverodonetsk pocket under increasing pressure with this creeping advance around the fringes of the built-up area.

“However, its efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled.”

Russian forces have captured the settlements of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka south of Ukraine’s cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, which are the focus of the Russian offensive in the region, Luhansk province governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday.

Ukrainian forces continue the defence of Severodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, he added.

Lysychansk is believed to be easier to defend as it is on higher ground, across the Siverskyi Donets river from Severodonetsk.

Mr Putin is focusing his military campaign on seizing the whole of the eastern Donbas region after the failure of his lightning invasion plan, which reportedly included capturing the capital Kyiv within days and toppling Volodymyr Zelensky’s government.

The Donbas includes the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Mr Zelensky said Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks were aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region and urged Ukraine’s allies to accelerate the shipment of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.

His adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said the fight for the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk was “entering a sort of fearsome climax”.

He claimed that Russian forces attacking both cities were conscripts of varying levels of training after Ukraine inflicted heavy losses on Mr Putin’s regular army.

“It’s like two boxers grappling with each other in the 18th round of a bout and barely able to move things forward. This operation started on 14th April and has been going on for nearly 80 days,” he said in an online video post.

Hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children, are trapped in a chemical plant in Severodonetsk, alongside Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukraine and Russia dispute who controls the bombed-out city.

The Kremlin says Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded and trapped.

But Mr Gaidai told Ukrainian Television on Wednesday that “Russian forces do not have full control.”

On Lysychansk, he described it as a “very dangerous in the city” as all of it was within reach of Russian fire.

“In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order that the troops retreat to new positions. There may be a regrouping after last night,” he added.

Tass news agency cited Russian-backed separatists saying Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road connecting the city to the town Sieviersk was taken.

On the diplomatic front, European leaders on Thursday will formally set Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels.

Though mainly symbolic, the move will help lift morale after four-months of bloody conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

“We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address released early Thursday, reiterating Ukrainian demands for larger and faster weapons.

“There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas. The occupier’s goal here is unchanged, they want to destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step.

“This is why we again and again emphasize the acceleration of arm deliveries to Ukraine. What is quickly needed is parity on the battlefield in order to halt this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine’s borders.”

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, has long opposed closer links between the country, a former Soviet state, and Western clubs like the European Union (EU) and the NATO military alliance.

Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the EU.

But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture that recognises Ukraine’s sacrifice.

The war in Ukraine has had a massive impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the EU to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.

The EU will temporarily shift back to coal to cope with dwindling Russian gas flows without derailing longer-term climate goals, an EU official said.

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