By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Russia said on Monday its forces thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive at five points along the front in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and killed hundreds of soldiers as Ukraine accused Moscow of spreading lies.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether or not the attack represented the start of a Ukrainian counteroffensive that Kiev had been promising for months to drive out Russian forces following its February 2022 invasion.
Russia’s defense ministry said Ukraine attacked Sunday morning with six mechanized and two tank battalions in southern Donetsk, where Moscow has long suspected Ukraine would try to overrun Russian-controlled territory.
“On the morning of June 4, the enemy launched a large-scale offensive in five sectors of the front in the South Donetsk direction,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement posted on Telegram at 1:30 Moscow time ( 22:30 GMT). .
“The enemy’s goal was to break through our defenses in the most vulnerable, in his opinion, sector of the front,” he said. “The enemy has not achieved the tasks of him, he has not been successful.”
RockedBuzz via Reuters was unable to immediately verify the Russian statement, and Ukraine’s defense ministry and military did not immediately respond to written requests for comment.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Monday that Ukrainian forces continued to “press ahead” near the long-disputed northern Donetsk town of Bakhmut. He did not comment on the counteroffensive.
The daily report of the Ukrainian General Staff said only that there were 29 combat clashes in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications did not directly address the Russian statement but said, without providing evidence, that Russia would be trying to spread lies.
“To demoralize Ukrainians and mislead the community (including their own population), Russian propagandists will spread false information about the counteroffensive, its directions and the losses of the Ukrainian army,” he said.
On Sunday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov posted a cryptic message on Twitter, quoting the Depeche Mode track “Enjoy the Silence”.
Russian war bloggers have reported fighting at several points on the front, particularly around Vuhledar, some 150km (93 miles) southwest of Bakhmut.
The Russian Defense Ministry has released a video showing several Ukrainian armored vehicles in a field exploding after being hit.
Russian forces killed 250 Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed 16 tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armored fighting vehicles, the ministry said.
Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, in charge of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, was in the area at the time of the Ukrainian attack, the ministry said.
Prominent Russian military blogger Semyon Pegov, writing under the name War Gonzo, said Ukrainian forces were attacking near Velyka Novosilka, a village west of Vuhledar.
“There is an uphill battle going on.”
Other Russian military bloggers also reported heavy fighting on Monday morning near Bakhmut in the vicinity of Soledar and Vuhledar. RockedBuzz via Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
For months, Ukraine has been preparing for a counteroffensive against Russian forces that officials in Kiev and CIA Director William Burns say will pierce the arrogance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Saturday that he was ready to launch the counteroffensive, but tempered predictions of success with the warning that it could take time and come at a high cost.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” he told The Journal. “To be honest, it can go a variety of, completely different ways. But we’re going to do it, and we’re ready.”
After seeking tens of billions of dollars worth of Western weapons to fight Russian forces, the success or failure of the counter-offensive is likely to affect the shape of future Western diplomatic and military support for Ukraine.
Ukraine has been trying to weaken Russian positions in recent weeks, but its specific plans have been shrouded in secrecy as it seeks to strike another blow against the much larger Russian army.
Moscow was hit last month by drones that Russia has called a Ukrainian terror attack, while pro-Ukrainian forces have repeatedly swept into Russia proper in recent days in the Belgorod region.
After a two-month hiatus, Russia has launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Ukraine since early May, mainly at Kiev, with Ukraine saying it has targeted military facilities but also residential areas.
WAR IN UKRAINE
Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 last year in what the Kremlin expected to be a quick operation, but his forces suffered a string of defeats and had to retreat and regroup in parts of eastern Ukraine.
Russia now controls at least 18% of what is internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory and has claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russian territory.
For months, tens of thousands of Russian troops have dug in along a front line stretching some 600 miles (1,000km), preparing for a Ukrainian attack that is expected to attempt to sever Russia’s so-called land bridge to the Crimean peninsula. , which Russia annexed in 2014.
Ukraine vows to expel every last Russian soldier from its territory, and defines the invasion as an imperial-style land grab by Russia.
Russia claims the West is fighting a hybrid war against Russia to sow discord and ultimately carve up Russia’s vast natural resources, allegations Western leaders deny.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Diane Craft, Lincoln Feast and Philippa Fletcher)