Russian Forces Advance, Target Railways as Kyiv Awaits Weapons

(Bloomberg) -- Russian forces pressed forward in eastern Ukraine and in some areas accelerated their advance as Kyiv’s depleted forces await badly needed US weaponry, according to US and UK officials.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Kremlin forces are moving against defensive lines west of the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut in the embattled Donetsk region, according to White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. Farther south, Russian troops are accelerating an advance west of Avdiivka, a stronghold they captured in February, UK military intelligence said Friday on social media platform X.

“It’s slow progress, but they’re pushing back on the Ukrainian lines, the first, the second and even pushing on the third,” Kirby told NBC News on Friday. “And that’s dangerous.”

President Vladimir Putin’s troops made grinding progress along the 1,200 kilometer (750-mile) front as US officials said that ammunition, as well as long-range missiles capable of attacking deep behind Russia lines, are on their way. Kirby said they would arrive “very, very soon” and potentially shift momentum in the war that’s tilted in Russia’s favor.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy acknowledged that the six months of waiting as US Republicans held up a $61 billion aid package had allowed Russia’s military to “seize the initiative.” But he said the fresh assistance would be enough to halt the Russian advance — and turn the tide.

Building on Gains

“We can still now not only stabilize the front, but also move forward, achieving our Ukrainian goals in the war,” Zelenskiy told Western allies during a meeting of the so-called Ramstein group on Friday.

For the longer-term, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed Friday a $6 billion commitment for contracts to provide Ukraine with weapons such as more Patriot missiles, artillery ammunition and drones.

Read more: US Defense Chief Confirms $6 Billion Arms Commitment for Ukraine

The $6 billion is separate from Presidential Drawdown Authority packages that pull equipment from US inventories for fast deployments and later replenishment.

“We are going to move as fast as we can — as fast as the industry can produce,” Austin told reporters.

For now, Moscow’s ground forces have built on their advance since they seized Avdiivka two months ago. Russia’s military entered the town of Ocheretyne, some 15 kilometers north of Avdiivka’s city center, according to both UK military intelligence and DeepState, an open-source database maintained by volunteers in cooperation with Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.

Analysts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War called the advance “relatively quick,” if marginal, and attributed it to the rapid Ukrainian pullout from Avdiivka to weaker defensive positions.

Still, that area holds less value compared with Russia’s approach to Chasiv Yar, a strategically located settlement west of Bakhmut where Moscow has mounted a furious offensive.

“Seizure of the town would likely allow Russian forces to launch subsequent offensive operations against cities that form a significant Ukrainian defensive belt in Donetsk Oblast,” ISW analysts said, speculating that Moscow may be making a bid to seize territory before US aid arrives.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence that Ukraine can repel Russia’s latest advances, citing the imminent arrival of additional materiel from US and European allies.

“We have seen the bravery and courage of the Ukrainian armed forces,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with German public broadcaster ARD conducted on Friday. “What they need now is more help from us and then they will be able to hold their ground.”

Russia has escalated missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in recent weeks and stepped up the bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, amid worries among Western officials that the Ukrainian military is near breaking point.

Hospital Evacuations

A shift in missile and drone strikes signals a greater emphasis on targeting military objects and logistics, potentially a bid to disrupt the movement of US weapons. Kremlin forces hit a site in Odesa Wednesday where discarded vehicles were stored, Ukraine’s southern military command said on Telegram.

“The enemy is trying to search for military infrastructure facilities in the rear,” the command said, commenting on the attack.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said this week that his forces would intensify attacks on logistics centers and storage bases.

Russia attacked railway facilities in three different regions across Ukraine Thursday night and Friday morning as they look to disrupt the nation’s sprawling rail network, which has played a crucial role in Kyiv’s war effort.

Elsewhere, Ukraine contended with an unexpected foray by the spy agency of Belarus’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko. Authorities in Kyiv were forced to evacuate two civilian hospitals on Friday, a day after Ivan Tertel, chief of Lukashenko’s spy agency, still known as the KGB, vowed to strike “terrorists” allegedly hiding “behind children” in the hospitals in the Ukrainian capital.

“In the war against terrorism we act under the laws of wartime,” Tertel said during a pro-government congress in Minsk as he read out the addresses of the hospitals in Kyiv.

Ukraine’s Security Service called Tertel’s statement part of a disinformation campaign aimed at aiding Russian military goals.

--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs, Tony Capaccio, Roxana Tiron and Iain Rogers.

(Updates with Stoltenberg comments from 14th paragraph.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.