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Russia claims to thwart major Ukrainian offensive, killing hundreds

A Ukrainian serviceman looks on near the Ukraine-Russia border, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, June 4, 2023.—Reuters 

On Monday, Russia announced that its forces successfully thwarted a major offensive launched by Ukraine at multiple locations along the front in southern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. The clash resulted in the deaths of hundreds of pro-Kyiv troops, according to Russian authorities. It remains uncertain whether this reported attack marks the beginning of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive to reclaim territory seized by Russian forces after the February 2022 invasion.

Russia’s defence ministry disclosed that Ukraine initiated the assault with six mechanized and two tank battalions in the southern Donetsk region, an area where Moscow had long suspected Ukraine would attempt to penetrate Russian-controlled territory. In a statement posted on Telegram at 1:30 a.m. 

The defence ministry explained Moscow time: “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 enemy’s goal was to break through our defences in the most vulnerable sector of the front according to their assessment. However, the enemy failed to achieve its objectives.”

The authenticity of the Russian statement could not be immediately verified, and there was no immediate response from the Ukrainian defence ministry or military regarding the incident.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov posted a cryptic message on Twitter on Sunday, quoting lyrics from Depeche Mode’s song “Enjoy the Silence.” His tweet read, “Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm.”

Last week, Ukraine released a dramatic video showcasing troops preparing for battle and reciting an inspiring chant, subsequently used as a recruiting clip. In response, Russia’s defence ministry released a video purporting to show several Ukrainian armoured vehicles exploding in a field after being targeted.

According to the Russian defence ministry, their forces killed 250 Ukrainian troops and destroyed 16 tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles, and 21 armoured combat vehicles during the clash. The accuracy of this claim could not be independently verified, and requests for comment from the Ukrainian defence ministry and military went unanswered.

Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who oversees Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, was present in the area during the Ukrainian attack, as stated by the ministry. “Gerasimov was at one of the advanced command posts,” the ministry added.

For months, Ukraine has been preparing for a counteroffensive against Russian forces, which Kyiv officials and CIA Director William Burns believe will challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed readiness to launch the counteroffensive but cautioned that success could take time and come at a high cost.

The outcome of the counteroffensive will likely shape future Western diplomatic and military support for Ukraine, as the country has sought substantial weaponry from the West to combat Russian forces. Ukraine has been secretive about its specific plans to weaken Russian positions, and recently pro-Ukrainian forces have crossed into Russia proper in the Belgorod region, while Moscow claimed to have been targeted by drones in a Ukrainian terrorist attack.

Since early May, after a two-month lull, Russia has launched numerous drone and missile attacks on Ukraine, primarily targeting Kyiv’s military and critical infrastructure facilities.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine began on February 24, when Putin deployed troops into Ukraine with the expectation of a swift operation. However, Russian forces faced defeats and had to regroup, resulting in their partial withdrawal to eastern Ukraine. Currently, Russia controls at least 18% of internationally recognized Ukrainian territory and has declared four regions as Russian territory.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops have fortified positions along a front line spanning approximately 600 miles (1,000km) in anticipation of a Ukrainian attack that could potentially sever Russia’s land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.

Ukraine remains determined to expel all Russian soldiers from its territory, characterizing the invasion as a land grab by the world’s largest nuclear power. Russia argues that the conflict is escalating and accuses the West of waging a hybrid war against Russia to exploit its vast natural resources, while the West denies seeking Russia’s destruction and expresses support for Ukraine without desiring a confrontation with Russia.

In a statement last year, US President Joe Biden warned that a NATO-Russia confrontation would lead to World War Three.

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