Zelenskyy visits frontline town in Ukraine; Putin admits “difficult situation”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday conceded that conditions in the Russian-held areas of Ukraine were “extremely difficult,” and Ukraine’s leader showed Russia’s faltering war by visiting a devastated front-line city long exposed to conquest withdrawn by Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he made the surprise trip to rally Kiev’s “superhuman” troops in Bakhmut, which has been so badly hit by continuous Russian shelling and brutal fighting nearby that it has been nicknamed the “meat grinder.”

Zelenskyy arrived in the eastern city after Putin told Russian security services they needed to significantly improve their work, one of his clearest public admissions yet that the invasion he launched nearly 10 months ago will not go according to plan.

Putin’s speech followed a visit to close ally Belarus, which fueled fears, dismissed by the Kremlin, that Russia’s former Soviet republic could help it open a new invasion front against Ukraine, where fighting has been concentrated hundreds of kilometers away to the east and in the south of the country.

The most devastating fighting in recent weeks has taken place around Bakhmut, where Zelenskyy, dressed in combat khaki, presented medals to soldiers in a run-down industrial complex to loud applause, according to video released by his office.

While artillery thunder could be heard in the distance, he urged them not to let up as the Battle of Bakhmut, which has come to symbolize the grueling brutality of the war, enters its fifth month.

“The East is holding out because Bakhmut is fighting. In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is being defended here for all of us,” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram. “That’s why I’m with you today. They are supermen. They are our strength and our heroes.”

He had previously repeatedly asked the West for more weapons, including air defense systems, after Russian drones hit energy targets in a third airstrike on power plants in six days.

PUTIN RECOGNIZES ‘DIFFICULT’ SITUATION

In a break with the official line that the invasion is proceeding smoothly, Putin acknowledged serious problems in regions of Ukraine that Moscow wanted to unilaterally annex in September and ordered the Federal Security Services (FSB) to ensure the “safety” of residents there .

“The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions is extremely difficult,” he said in a video address to security forces, translated by Reuters.

He was later shown presenting medals to the Russian-appointed leaders of the four regions in a televised Kremlin ceremony.

In a further move, on the 300th day of his invasion, Putin ordered the FSB to step up surveillance of Russian society and borders to combat the “emergence of new threats” from abroad and traitors at home.

Western countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, and the ruble fell to a more than seven-month low against the dollar on Tuesday after the European Union agreed to cap the price of natural gas, a key Russian export.

In Washington, a senior US State Department official told reporters there were conflicting views in Russia on what the next steps in Ukraine should be, with some seeking new offensives and others doubting Russia’s ability to carry them out.

Putin’s proclaimed annexations, condemned as illegal by Ukraine and its western allies, were an attempt to turn the tide on a Ukrainian counter-offensive since the summer after a series of battlefield defeats.

But Russian forces later withdrew in one of the newly claimed regions — Kherson — and have failed to gain ground elsewhere while targeting the energy grid with airstrikes over Ukraine in what Moscow says is an attempt to demote the military.

The airstrikes, which Kyiv says are clearly targeting civilians to break their will to resist, have repeatedly cut power and water supplies amid the sub-zero winter cold.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukrainians should prepare for new Russian attacks on energy infrastructure because Moscow wanted them to spend Christmas and New Year in darkness.

ACTIVITIES IN BELARUS

On Monday, Putin visited Belarus for the first time since 2019, and he and his counterpart praised the ever-closer ties without mentioning the conflict in Ukraine.

Russian troops used Belarus as a springboard for their failed attack on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the south in February, and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus for months.

Kyiv says Russian forces have continued to use airfields in Belarus for attacks on Ukraine since February 27. 24 invasion.

But Lukashenko insists he has no intention of sending Belarusian troops to Ukraine. The Kremlin dismissed the idea of ​​a more active Belarusian role as “baseless” and “stupid”.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia could prepare a force in Belarus to launch a new offensive against Ukraine, but hoped Minsk’s forces would not participate as it was not in its interest to “exploit its military potential.” to waste”.

MORE INJURIES

The conflict in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions from their homes and reduced cities to rubble, with no end in sight.

Russian forces on Tuesday continued to practice tank and artillery fire on Ukrainian positions in 24 settlements near Bakhmut and near Avdiivka in the east, and continued shelling northeastern and southern areas recently retaken by Ukrainian forces, the Kyiv general staff said Army in its evening update.

Ukrainian planes carried out 10 strikes on concentrations of Russian ground forces and equipment, as well as other strikes on anti-aircraft positions, an ammunition depot and three command posts, sources said, without providing details of their locations.

Reuters could not independently verify either side’s battlefield reports.

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Kyiv and the West believe this is nonsense and call Russia’s actions imperial-style land grabs.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

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