- Russian administrator claims foothold in Vuhledar
- Kiev says Russian profit comes at a huge cost
- Think tank says slowdown in Western weapons has held back Ukraine’s advance
KYIV, Ukraine/WASHINGTON Jan 30 (Reuters) – The United States will not provide the F-16 fighter jets Ukraine has been looking for in its fight against Russia, President Joe Biden said Monday, as Russian forces claimed a series of incremental gains in the country’s east.
Ukraine planned to put pressure on fourth-generation western fighter jets such as the F-16 after securing supplies of main battle tanks last week, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister said on Friday. A Ukrainian Air Force spokesman said it would take its pilots about half a year to train on such fighter jets.
Asked if the United States would provide the jets, Biden told reporters at the White House, “No.”
The brief conversation came shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had begun to retaliate against Ukraine’s resistance to its invasion with brutal attacks in the east.
Zelenskiy has been warning for weeks that Moscow wants to step up its attack on Ukraine after about two months of virtual stalemate along the frontline stretching south and east.
Ukraine received a huge boost last week when Germany and the United States announced plans to supply heavy tanks, ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock over the issue.
“The next big hurdle now will be the fighter jets,” Yuriy Sak, who advises Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, told Reuters on Friday.
While there was no sign of a wider new Russian offensive, Denis Pushilin, the administrator of Russian-controlled parts of eastern Donetsk province, said Russian troops had gained a foothold in Vuhledar, a coal mining town whose ruins were a Ukrainian bastion. have been. since the start of the war.
Pushilin said Ukrainian troops continue to send reinforcements to Bakhmut, Maryinka and Vuhledar, three towns running north-south just west of the city of Donetsk. Russia’s state news agency TASS quoted him as saying that Russian troops are advancing there, but “not clearly, that is, here there is a battle for literally every meter”.
Pushilin’s adviser Yan Gagin said fighters from Russia’s mercenary army Wagner had partially taken control of a supply road to Bakhmut, a city that has been Moscow’s main target for months.
A day earlier, Wagner’s chief said his warriors had captured Blahodatne, a village just north of Bakhmut.
Kiev said it had repelled attacks on Blahodatne and Vuhledar, and Reuters could not independently verify the situation there. But the locations of the reported fighting indicated clear, if gradual, Russian gains.
Zelenskiy said that the Russian attacks in the east were relentless, despite heavy losses on the Russian side. The attacks were a reward for Ukraine’s success in pushing back Russian forces from the capital, the northeast and the south earlier in the conflict.
“I think Russia really wants its big revenge. I think they’ve (already) started it,” Zelenskiy told reporters in the southern port city of Odessa.
Mykola Salamakha, a Ukrainian colonel and military analyst, told Ukrainian Radio NV that Moscow’s attack in Vuhledar came at a huge cost.
“The city is in a highland and an extremely strong defensive hub has been created there,” he said. “This is a repeat of the situation in Bakhmut – one wave of Russian troops after another is crushed by the Ukrainian forces.”
The hundreds of modern tanks and armored vehicles pledged to Ukraine by Western nations in recent weeks for a counter-offensive to retake territory are months away from delivery.
This leaves Kiev to fight through the winter in what both sides have described as a meat grinder of ruthless, exhausting warfare.
Moscow’s Wagner mercenary army has sent thousands of convicts recruited from Russian prisons to battle around Bakhmut, buying time for Russia’s regular army to reassemble units with hundreds of thousands of reservists.
Zelensky urges the West to speed up the delivery of the promised weapons so that Ukraine can go on the offensive.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Western arms-supplying countries are leading “NATO countries to become increasingly directly involved in the conflict — but it doesn’t have the potential to change the course of events and won’t.”
The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said that “the failure of the West to provide the necessary equipment” was the main reason last year that Kiev’s advance had stalled since November.
That enabled Russia to put pressure on Bakhmut and strengthen the front against a future Ukrainian counterattack, the researchers said in a report, though they said Ukraine could still retake territory once the promised weapons arrive.
Zelenskiy met Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Mykolaiv on Monday, a rare visit by a foreign leader close to the front. The city, where the Russian advance south was halted, was under relentless bombardment until Ukraine pushed back the front line in November.
Russia’s invasion, launched on Feb. 24 last year, claiming it needed to protect itself from its neighbors’ ties to the West, has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions from their homes.
Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Kevin Liffey, Ronald Popeski and Reuters bureaus; Written by Peter Graff, Philippa Fletcher and Doina Chiacu; Edited by Gareth Jones, William Maclean and Cynthia Osterman
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.