Russian president and defence officials in Kyiv give conflicting accounts of situation on front lines in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has again called Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces a failure as Kyiv’s Ministry of Defence reported further gains on the front lines around Bakhmut city in the eastern Donetsk region.
Speaking at a news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday, Putin denied reports of recent battlefield gains by Ukraine and said Kyiv’s forces had not stalled in their advance, but had failed.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive “has failed, not stalled”, Russia’s State news agency TASS quoted Putin as saying.
Putin also said he hoped “it will remain this way”, TASS reported.
The Russian leader has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine has not made any progress against Russian defensive positions in regions of Ukraine controlled by Moscow’s forces.
But Russian military bloggers and international military analysts have reported on serious issues affecting Russian forces on the front lines, particularly a lack of artillery shells, which has forced Moscow’s military planners to focus more on artillery accuracy than their tradition of volume of shells fired in battle.
On Monday, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said that Kyiv’s forces had retaken about 3 square km (1.16 square miles) of land in the past week around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian troops in May after months of heavy fighting.
Ukraine has now taken back about 47sq km (29 miles) of territory around Bakhmut since starting its counteroffensive in early June, Maliar wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Maliar also reported unspecified “success” in the direction of the villages of Novodanylivka and Novoprokopivka in the southern region of Zaporizhia but gave no details.
According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a think tank based in Washington, DC, Ukraine’s infantry has advanced in Zaporizhia’s western region to positions beyond the first line of Russian defences, which included anti-tank ditches and anti-tank obstacles known as “dragon’s teeth”.
But in the absence of Ukraine moving heavy equipment into those areas, the ISW said it was too early to say Kyiv had definitely breached the Russian defences in western Zaporizhia.
NEW: #Ukrainian light infantry has advanced beyond anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles that comprise the current RU defensive layer ahead of the UKR advance in western #Zaporizhia, and UKR forces likely intend to hold those positions.🧵https://t.co/WYHWCm1pQh pic.twitter.com/bVNXEmnbme
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) September 5, 2023
“Ukrainian forces likely intend to hold those positions,” the ISW said, adding that it was “not prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have breached this Russian defensive layer in the absence of observed Ukrainian heavy equipment in these areas”.
Maliar said last week that after Ukrainian troops had broken through the first line of Russian defences, Kyiv’s military expects to advance more rapidly.
Officials in Kyiv have in recent weeks bristled at international criticism reported in Western media that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been too slow and hindered by poor tactics – particularly positioning troops in too many locations.
Kyiv has argued that its soldiers have been hampered by vast Russian minefields and trenches along the front line and that Ukrainian forces were moving slowly and steadily to preserve life.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said last week that critics of Ukraine’s tactics should “shut up”.
Videos posted on the Ukrainian presidential website on Monday showed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visiting troops in the eastern Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, and in the Zaporizhia region, where Kyiv’s forces are trying to push southward to the Sea of Azov.