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Russia keeps up pressure in east as Ukraine eyes more advanced weaponry

Multiple M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Nicole R. Paese/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian forces kept focusing their offensive efforts on Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk, Ukraine’s military has said, as Kyiv again urged its Western allies to speed up approval for the delivery of advanced heavy weaponry including modern tanks.

The Ukrainian military General Staff said in its daily report that Bakhmut and Avdiyivka, where heavy fighting has been going on for months, remained Moscow’s main targets in Donetsk, while the settlement of Bilohoryvka in the neighboring Luhansk region had also come under intensified attacks over the past 24 hours.

Russian troops carried out six missile strikes over the same interval, three of which hit civilian infrastructure targets in the cities of Kupyansk and Kramatorsk, as well as 14 air strikes and 95 rocket salvos, the General Staff said.

It also warned that the threat of Russian air and missile strikes on civilian objects remains high throughout Ukraine.

Russia over the past several months has relentlessly targeted civilian settlements and energy infrastructure that plunge millions of Ukrainians into dark and cold in the middle of winter.

The latest attacks came after a Russian missile strike on an apartment building that housed around 1,700 people in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro killed at least 45 people.

More than 9,000 civilians, including 453 children, have been killed since the war began last February, Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, told the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos on January 17. The United Nations has put the civilian toll at more than 7,000.

Top U.S. and Ukrainian military officers met for the first time at a secret location in southeastern Poland on January 17 as Kyiv pressed the need for increased supplies of Western arms.

A spokesman said U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with General Valeriy Zaluzhniy, Ukraine’s military chief, at a base near Poland’s border with Ukraine.

The Washington Post and other news outlets reported that the U.S. contingent included five other military officers, along with an interpreter and security personnel. Because of safety precautions, news of the gathering was not disclosed until it concluded.

“They both thought it was important,” U.S. military spokesman Colonel David Butler said.

“It’s important that two very important military officials look at each other in the eye when they talk about very important topics. It makes a difference,” he added.

The two have spoken often since Russia’s February 24, 2022, invasion, but this was the first face-to-face meeting of the generals.

Zaluzhniy confirmed the meeting, writing on Twitter: “My first personal meeting with #GenMilley, Chairman of @thejointstaff happened in Poland.”

He said he “extended my gratitude for the unwavering support & assistance” provided by the United States and other allies. He added that he “outlined the urgent needs” of the Ukrainian military that “will accelerate our Victory.”

The meeting came as Western allies prepared to gather in Germany to discuss giving Ukraine offensive armaments such as tanks, a major request of leaders in Kyiv.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is due in Berlin on January 19 and then will host a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group the following day at the U.S. military base in Ramstein to discuss further support — including military aid — for Ukraine with allies.

Kyiv has long pushed for tanks and armored vehicles that will help it break through Russia’s front lines.

The European Union’s chairman on January 18 spoke in favor of the West providing tanks to Ukraine. “For nearly one year, Russia has pursued a strategy of destruction, a strategy of terror, trying to bomb the Ukrainian people into submission,” European Council President Charles Michel said. “But Ukrainians are resisting.”

“We, the EU, will continue to support them for as long as it takes. The time is now, they urgently need more equipment and I am personally in favor of supplying tanks to Ukraine,” he added.

Britain confirmed on January 16 that it was going to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks and other military equipment, including hundreds of armored vehicles and advanced air-defense systems.

Poland and Finland have already pledged to send some of their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Analysts say the Leopard 2 is superior to the tanks Russia has deployed and would give Kyiv a decisive advantage.

Poland has ratcheted up pressure on Germany to follow suit and provide more weapons to Ukraine, including Leopard 2 battle tanks, but Berlin says such weapons should be supplied only if there is agreement among Kyiv’s main allies, particularly the United States.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at his annual news conference on January 18 that the Kremlin will achieve its objectives in Ukraine despite he said was a “hybrid war” waged by the West against Russia.

Lavrov said Russia saw no prospects of peace talks and there could be no negotiations with Zelenskiy.

Moscow has said talks are possible only if Kyiv recognizes Russia’s claims to parts of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine says it will not stop fighting until all its territory is liberated.