- A fierce fight is said to have taken place around Bagmuth
- Zelenskiy presses Poland, Macron China
- Washington pledges billions more as Ukraine prepares for attack
KYIV, April 5 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Poland on Wednesday, buoyed by a recent announcement of U.S. military aid as Russian troops press on in a long and costly battle to capture the eastern city of Pakmut.
Zelenskiy plans to thank his Polish allies, which have provided his government with vital weapons and taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees since Russia’s invasion.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron visited China, now in its second year, after he and US President Joe Biden agreed to engage Beijing to accelerate the Russian offensive on Ukraine.
Beijing has called for a comprehensive ceasefire and described its stance on the conflict as “neutral”.
The United States on Tuesday pledged $2.6 billion in military aid to Zelensky’s government, including three aircraft surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks.
Russian news agency TASS reported that Moscow’s embassy in Washington accused the United States of wanting to drag out the conflict as long as possible.
The West has stepped up aid as Ukrainian forces prepare to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces in the east, although it has not been announced when exactly it will begin.
Spain says six Leopard 2A4 tanks it promised to send to Ukraine will leave the country in the second half of April, earlier than initially planned. Spain has trained 40 tank crew members and 15 mechanics at a military base in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.
Other NATO countries, including Germany, Poland and Portugal, have pledged to send a total of 48 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
The battlefield focus was on Pakmut, a mining town and transport hub on the edge of a part of Donetsk province under mostly Russian control. Both sides have suffered heavy casualties and much of the city has been reduced to rubble after months of street fighting and shelling.
Near New York City, 50 km (30 miles) south of Bagmut, Ukrainian soldiers described repelling Russian attacks daily in muddy trenches.
“They go in, fire and tire us out. Then they can assess the situation and advance a little more,” the commander of the infantry division, “Bodia”, told Reuters.
“Meanwhile, we’re trying to let them get closer to us so we can hit them more accurately.”
Ukrainian military commanders have stressed the importance of holding Bagmut and other cities ahead of an expected counterattack.
The Ukrainian General Staff said in a statement: “There has been no let-up in enemy operations aimed at attacking the city of Pakmut. At least 20 enemy attacks have been repulsed here alone in the last 24 hours.”
Mercenaries from the Wagner Group – which led the attack on Pakmut – claimed to have captured the city center over the weekend, a claim denied by Kiev.
The US-based Combat Research Institute said Wagner fighters had advanced on Bagmut and could continue their push westward through dense urban areas to consolidate control of the city center.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
In Warsaw, Zelenskiy was due to meet with President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and speak with Ukrainian refugees.
The Ukrainian leader crossed the border into Poland – which has played a key role in supplying other Western powers with tanks and other weapons to Ukraine – on Wednesday morning.
“It will not surprise anyone that the Ukrainian side will ask for additional support from Poland and other foreign partners. But we, as Poles, should know that we have already done a lot,” said Marcin Przydaks, assistant to the Polish president.
Prasidaks previously said that the first shipment of MiG fighter jets had already been delivered to Ukraine.
“MiG aircraft from Poland will significantly strengthen our defense, make our skies safer, save the lives of our citizens and reduce the destruction caused by Russian attacks,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote in a telegram.
On a more ironic note, Polish Agriculture Minister Henrik Kowalczyk resigned on Wednesday amid growing anger among farmers over the impact of Ukrainian grain imports on domestic prices. Kowalczyk said he decided to leave after the European Commission decided to extend duty-free imports for Ukrainian grain until June 2024.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will hold two days of talks with Putin in Moscow starting Wednesday, the Kremlin said.
Belarus is one of Putin’s strongest allies and was used as a launch pad for a Russian invasion in February last year. Putin said last month that Russia would deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
French President Macron, who visited Beijing, said China could play a role in resolving the Ukraine war because of Beijing’s close ties with Russia.
He and European Union chief Ursula van der Leyen are trying to “reset” ties with a key economic partner while tackling thorny issues like Ukraine and trade risks.
Statement by Pavel Polityuk; Additional reporting by Ron Popsky and Mike Stone; Written by Angus MacSwan, edited by Philippa Fletcher
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