Zelensky fears city of Bakhmut could fall to Putins troops

Ukraine’s defence of Bakhmut is becoming “more and more difficult”, President Volodymyr Zelensky says. He warned Moscow generals were adopting a strategy of “exhaustion and total destruction” as they throw even more soldiers to their deaths.

“The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions”, he said.

Mr Zelensky repeated his call for the West to send modern warplanes as Russian fighter jets were spotted roaring over the former mining city.

He spoke as Russia reported a string of drone attacks deep inside its territory – as well as the hacking of its TV and radio stations.

Vladimir Putin yesterday ordered air defences to be bolstered after officials said they shot down a military drone near a gas facility 70 miles southeast of Moscow.

Ukraine did not claim responsibility but it would be the first time they have attacked near Russia’s capital.

Putin’s forces have spent six months trying to take Bakhmut – at a cost of 1,000 soldiers a day according to Ukraine. They have been slowly gaining ground, spearheaded by the Wagner mercenary group. The city, once home to 70,000, people has been reduced to rubble.

Seizing it would be a big symbolic and strategic victory for Moscow.

But foreign observers say there is no sign of Ukraine withdrawing and reinforcements were still arriving.

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces admitted the situation was “extremely tense”. Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said: “Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner, who are trying to break through the defences of our troops and surround the city.”

Armed Forces minister James Heappey called for stronger links between Nato and Kyiv.

He said: “Ukraine can win but only with increased support.

“Allies have undertaken unprecedented steps in response to Russia’s illegal war but now is the time to intensify and make a difference on the ground.”

Mr Zelensky has begged for Kyiv’s application to the bloc to be fast-tracked.

Nato has agreed to let Ukraine join after the war.

Yesterday its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that Putin was “not planning for peace, he is planning for more war”.

That is despite claims from the Kremlin that they were ready to hold peace talks.

Mr Stoltenberg was speaking on a visit to Finland, which – like Sweden – has announced it wants to join Nato since the Russian invasion.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia is open to negotiations but will “never compromise on territorial realities”.

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