KYIV — Recent gains by Ukrainian troops on the southern front could open the way for pushing the Russians back to the annexed Crimean peninsula, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said.
He said this became possible after Kyiv liberated the “strategically important” village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region.
Russia’s military says its forces are still holding on to the village. Ukraine seeks to cut the land corridor to Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014.
By doing so, Kyiv would split in two the land Russia occupies in southern Ukraine, making Moscow’s supply lines more complicated.
The latest claims by both Ukraine and Russia have not been independently verified.
Speaking at a recent meeting of French ambassadors in Paris, Kuleba said: “Having entrenched on its [Robotyne’s] flanks, we are opening the way to Tokmak and, eventually, Melitopol and the administrative border with Crimea.”
The Russian-occupied cities of Tokmak and Melitopol are key military and logistical hubs for Russia.
Kuleba stressed that Ukraine’s counter-offensive — launched in early June — was continuing, but admitted it was an “extremely difficult” task.
“The number of minefields and fortifications is unprecedented. Russian drones, helicopters and planes dominate the air. But we are gradually succeeding.”
He described how one group of 31 Ukrainian fighters had “literally crawled on their stomachs through kilometers of minefields”, eventually making it possible for a brigade to retake Robotyne.
In its Wednesday’s report on the battlefield situation, Ukraine’s military also said its forces “had success” in the direction to the south and south-east of Robotyne.
But Russia’s military said it troops had “repelled nine attacks” by Ukrainian forces in the Robotyne area, as well as around the Verbove village to the south-east.
Moscow — which claims to have prepared three defensive lines in the south — has repeatedly described the Ukrainian counter-offensive as a total failure, costing many soldiers’ lives with little progress.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War said “Ukrainian forces continued to advance east of Robotyne… on Aug. 29, while continuing to secure positions in Robotyne”.
Ukraine claims to have penetrated the first of Russia’s defensive lines near Robotyne, and its troops now aim to move further south to reach striking distance of all Russian-occupied towns on the Sea of Azov coast.
But Russia is believed to have built up a kilometers-long system of trenches and tunnels, as well as dug-up artillery positions and so-called “dragon’s teeth” anti-tank concrete barriers. Moscow hopes this will help to halt a further Ukrainian advance.
Kyiv launched its counter-offensive after securing modern weapons from its allies in the West and preparing assault battalions.
However, progress has been slow, and there have been reports of some disagreements on war tactics between top Ukrainian and American generals.
Kyiv also says it needs more Western weaponry, in particular tanks, de-mining equipment and war planes — like the US-made F-16 fighter jets — to challenge Russia’s superiority in the air.
On Wednesday, fighting also continued in north-eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are attempting to advance on the strategic city of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. — BBC