Ukraine braces for heavy battles amid Putin's 'buffer zone' plan

May 18, 2024 8:40 am

[Source: Reuters]

Ukraine’s top commander warned on Friday of “heavy battles” looming on the war’s new front in the northeastern Kharkiv region as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was carving out a “buffer zone” in the area.

Russian forces attacked the Kharkiv region’s north last Friday, making inroads of up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) and unbalancing Kyiv’s outnumbered troops who are trying to hold the line over a sprawling front nearly 27 months since the invasion.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said the attack had expanded the combat zone by around 70km and that Russia had launched its incursion ahead of schedule after “it noticed the deployment of our forces”.

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Russian forces have the initiative on the battlefield and are slowly advancing in the east, exploiting Ukrainian shortages of manpower and months of delays in arms supplies from the West.

Speaking during a state visit to China, Putin said Russia was creating a “buffer zone” in Ukraine’s northeast to protect its own border regions, but said capturing the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest, was not part of the current plan.

Faced with Russian airstrikes throughout the war, Kyiv has scrambled to develop drones and missiles and staged strikes on facilities in Russia it says are being used to support the war and bomb Ukrainian towns, cities and power facilities.

Kharkiv’s mayor said a Russian missile strike on Friday had killed two people and injured 25 more in the city.

Putin told a news conference in China that the assault on Kharkiv region was a response to Kyiv’s shelling of Russian border regions such as Belgorod where he said civilians were dying.

Russian forces were able to advance 10 kilometres in one place in Kharkiv region, although Ukrainian forces have “stabilised” the front, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Ukrainian media outlets in comments published on Friday.

Moscow’s troops have captured 12 villages during the current incursion, Russia’s defence ministry said.