Putin visits Russian military commanders in Kherson and Luhansk in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin met his commanders in two regions of Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed, while Russian forces stepped up heavy artillery shelling and airstrikes on the devastated town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin said that during Monday’s visit, Putin attended a military command meeting in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine and visited a national guard headquarters in eastern Ukraine. Lugansk.

Putin heard reports from commanders of the Airborne Forces and the Dnieper Army Group, as well as other senior officers who briefed him on the situation in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south.

“It is important for me to hear your opinion on the development of the situation, to listen to you, to exchange information,” Putin, 70, told the commanders.

Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk are the four regions that Putin proclaimed annexed last September following what kyiv and its Western allies called sham referendums. Russian forces only partially control the four regions.

Russian troops withdrew from the city of Kherson, the regional capital, last November and reinforced their positions on the opposite bank of the Dnipro in anticipation of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

While many Western leaders have traveled to Kiev for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russian forces invaded 14 months ago, Putin has rarely visited parts of Ukraine under Russian control.

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The Russian parliament has approved new legislation allowing electronic transmission of draft opinions and imposing restrictions on those who do not comply. The Russian government denies claims it is on the verge of another mass mobilization, which sparked an exodus last year.

Last month he traveled to Crimea – annexed by Russia in 2014 – and the city of Mariupol in the southeast Donetsk region.

A Russian winter offensive did not make much headway, and its troops became bogged down in a series of battles in the east and south, where advances were gradual and cost both sides dearly.

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Fighting has raged in and around Bakhmut in the Donetsk region for months, with Ukrainian forces holding their ground despite regular claims from Russia that the mining town has been taken.

“Currently, the enemy is increasing heavy artillery activity and the number of airstrikes, turning the city into ruins,” Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander General Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a statement on Tuesday.

Capturing Bakhmut could provide a springboard for Russia to advance on two major cities it has long coveted in the Donetsk region – Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Two men in military fatigues are shown in a trench, one of them carrying a shell.
A Ukrainian artilleryman carries an artillery shell into a trench on the front line in the Donetsk region on Monday. (Anatoli Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

The leader of the Wagner mercenary group, which led Russia’s bid to take Bakhmut, said this month his fighters controlled more than 80% of the city. The Ukrainian army denied this.

Russia says its “special military operation” in Ukraine, launched on February 24 last year, was necessary to protect its security against what it sees as a hostile and aggressive West.

Ukraine and its Western allies say Russia is waging an unprovoked war aimed at seizing territory.

A meeting of Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers in Japan on Tuesday condemned a Russian plan to station so-called shorter-range tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a Moscow ally that borders Ukraine.

It was the first time Russia had said it would station nuclear weapons on another country’s territory since the end of the Cold War three decades ago, and appeared to be upping the ante, at least symbolically, in an escalating standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine.

In a statement released after a three-day meeting in Japan, the G7 foreign ministers said: “Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and threat to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus is unacceptable.”

“Any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia would have serious consequences.”

An outdoor billboard is shown in an urban setting.
An outdoor billboard in Moscow on Monday promotes the private mercenary group Wagner, which has units fighting in Ukraine. The tagline reads: ‘Together we will win!’ (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

The G7 countries, the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada, have all imposed economic sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu was in Moscow on Tuesday as the countries seek to deepen military cooperation, raising concerns in the West. China has become Russia’s most important international partner in the 14 months since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

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