25.02.2024

Putin’s forces pushed back in southern Ukraine – as Zelensky claims new long-range weapon

Ukraine’s forces have pushed back Russian troops in areas of the country’s south and east as Kyiv pushes on with its counteroffensive – with President Volodymyr Zelensky also claiming that his country has developed a new long-range weapon.

The pronouncement by Mr Zelensky that the unnamed weapon reached a target more than 700km (400 miles) away comes a day after a wave of airstrikes across six regions in Russia. Those strikes included an assault that caused a huge fire at a military airbase in Pskov in northern Russia, damaging several giant military transport planes. That airbase is roughly 700km from the Ukrainian border.

Mr Zelensky’s remarks are almost certainly part of the information war with Russia over Moscow’s 18-month invasion, although he did not give details on the new weapon other than the fact it was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries. But it is certainly the clearest suggestion that Kyiv was behind the attack.

Ukraine has upped the number of drones attacks on Russian territory in recent weeks, but rarely officially claims them. Western allies of Kyiv are wary of such attacks, although Mr Zelensky has repeatedly said that his nation has the right to hit military targets. Russia reported overnight drone attacks in its Bryansk region on Thursday and said it had shot down a missile fired on occupied Crimea.

On the ground in Ukraine, Kyiv’s troops have secured some new “successes” in the south and east.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has said this week that recent gains on the southern front could enable them to recapture the annexed Crimean peninsula.

He suggested those who criticised the pace of its three-month-old counteroffensive to “shut up” – the sharpest signal yet of Kyiv’s frustration with some Western officials, quoted in US media reports, that Kyiv’s troops are moving too slowly.

“Criticising the slow pace of [the] counteroffensive equals … spitting into the face of [the] Ukrainian soldier who sacrifices his life every day, moving forward and liberating one kilometre of Ukrainian soil after another,” Mr Kuleba said. “I would recommend all critics to shut up, come to Ukraine and try to liberate one square centimetre by themselves,” he said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Spain.

After months of fighting their way through heavy minefields, Ukraine’s forces have finally reached the main Russian defensive lines in the Zaporizhzhia region, in recent days. If troops can find a way past anti-tank defences and other Russian traps, a further advance there would provide the first test of Russia’s deeper defences, which Ukraine hopes will be more vulnerable and less heavily mined than the areas its troops have traversed so far.

Elsewhere, the Foreign Office confirmed the death of a British man whose family said he was fighting in Ukraine. Samuel Newey, 22, from Solihull in the West Midlands, was “killed in action” on Wednesday in eastern Ukraine, his brother, Daniel, said in a social media post.

Meanwhile, BAE Systems said it had established a local entity in Ukraine and signed deals with the Ukrainian government to help ramp-up the supply of weapons, equipment and training to the country. Britain is a key defence supplier for Ukraine and BAE, as the UK’s biggest defence contractor, has manufactured a significant amount of the hardware provided to Kyiv.

The new agreements will facilitate BAE’s future support by helping it better understand Ukraine’s capability requirements, and they will also allow the company to work directly with Ukrainian partners with a plan to produce 105mm light guns there.

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