- Russia said Ukraine carried out the attack on Sunday
- Ukraine did not mention the launch of the counteroffensive
- Zelenskiy hailed it as ‘the news we’ve been waiting for’
KYIV, June 6 (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it had repelled another major Ukrainian offensive in Donetsk, causing heavy casualties, while Ukraine hailed progress in the war in the east, although it was unclear whether it marked a long-awaited start. Ukrainian counterattack.
On Monday, Russia said Ukrainian forces launched a major offensive in the southern part of Donetsk region over the weekend and repulsed it.
Ukrainian officials did not mention any broad, significant new campaign, although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was cryptic in his nightly speech on Monday, praising “the message we have been waiting for” and advancing on Bagmut in Donetsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year in what the Kremlin hoped would be a swift move, but its forces have met with repeated setbacks and regrouped in the east of the country.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops dug in during the winter and besieged Pakmut for months, facing a Ukrainian counterattack, trying to cut a so-called land bridge to Russia’s Crimean peninsula.
A recent Russian Defense Ministry report said Russian forces suffered heavy casualties and destroyed 28 tanks, including eight Leopard main battle tanks and 109 armored vehicles, in the attack on Ukrainian forces. It put the total Ukrainian losses at 1,500 troops.
“Having suffered heavy losses the previous day, the Kiev regime reorganized the remnants of the 23rd and 31st mechanized brigades into separate integrated divisions, which continued offensive operations,” the ministry said in a telegram.
“A complex fire failure was achieved by Army forces, attack and operational-tactical aviation, missile forces and artillery, and heavy flamethrower systems.”
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate comment from Kiev on Russia’s claims.
Russia and Ukraine have frequently claimed that each other has inflicted heavy casualties, which have not been independently verified.
The Washington Post reported that some US officials thought a counterattack was underway, but White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined to say whether he thought that was the case.
“I’m not going to speak for the Ukrainian army,” he said at a regular briefing.
“(But) whenever they decide to step up, whatever they decide to do, the last six, eight months or so they have all the equipment, the training, the skills to be successful.”
In a promotional video released on Sunday, urging silence on any military actions, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said: “Plans such as peace – the beginning will not be announced.”
The success or failure of the counteroffensive, which is expected to be launched with billions of dollars worth of advanced Western weaponry, will affect the pattern of future Western diplomatic and military support for Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Reuters on Monday that Ukraine now had enough weapons for a counterattack, but declined to comment when asked if it had been launched.
Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier said Ukraine launched a large-scale offensive on Sunday in five divisions in southern Donetsk, an area Moscow suspects has long sought to drive a wedge through Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.
“The enemy’s goal is to break through our defenses on the front lines, which are, in its opinion, the most vulnerable,” it said. “It didn’t win.”
In a statement issued late Monday, Ukraine’s General Staff made no mention of large-scale offensives and suggested no departure from the usual pace or scope of frontline fighting that has remained largely unchanged for months.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malier said in a telegram that Ukraine was “shifting to offensive operations” on the front, but rejected suggestions of a major operation.
“Right now the main focus is on the Bagmuth sector,” said Maliar. “It has resulted in some successes, including improvements. We have controlled some of the highs.”
Mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group captured Bagmut last month and handed over their positions to regular Russian troops there.
Writing in Telegram, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner militia, which frequently clashes with the Russian Defense Ministry, called its latest report and the massive Ukrainian losses it described “just wild and absurd science fiction.”
Russia now controls at least 18% of internationally recognized Ukrainian territory and has claimed four more parts of Ukraine as Russian territory after annexing Crimea in 2014.
Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Lidia Kelly and Ron Popeski; By David Branstrom; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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