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Zelenskiy vows Ukraine will defend ‘fortress’ Bakhmut

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the country’s forces will fight for as long as they can to hold onto the city of Bakhmut.

Russia Ukraine War President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he considers the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut
February 4, 2023
4 February 2023

Ukrainians will fight “for as long as we can” to hold the eastern city of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has vowed as he hosted European Union leaders to discuss further sanctions on Russia and prospects for his country to join the bloc.

Meanwhile, the United States said it would send more than $US2.175 billion ($A3.131 billion) worth of military aid to Ukraine, including a new rocket that will double the strike range to reach most Ukrainian territory now held by Russian forces.

The head of the EU’s executive Commission and the chairman of the 27 EU member leaders were in Kyiv to demonstrate support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s February 24 invasion of its neighbour approaches.

As they and Zelenskiy’s government discussed a range of issues, air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv and across the country – a regular occurrence during months of Russian missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure far from the battlefields in the east and south – but there were no reports of new air strikes.

Zelenskiy, flanked by the EU leaders at a news conference, said European sanctions should aim to ensure Russia cannot rebuild its military capability. 

And he had a defiant message on Bakhmut, the focal point of Ukrainian resistance and Russia’s drive to regain battlefield momentum.

“Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress,” he said.

Russian offficials say their forces are encircling the city that had a pre-war population of about 75,000 from several directions and battling to take control of a road which is also an important supply route for Ukrainian forces.

“If weapon (supplies) are accelerated, specifically long-range weapons, not only will we not abandon Bakhmut but we will also begin to remove the occupiers from the Donbas (region of eastern Ukraine), occupied since 2014,” Zelenskiy said.

The US military aid announced on Friday included rockets known as Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDB), whose 151km range would put all of Russia’s supply lines in eastern Ukraine within reach, as well as part of the Crimea peninsula, also seized by Russia in 2014.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said a 10th sanctions package would hit “trade and technology that supports Russia’s war machine”.

The package, which the EU is preparing for the anniversary of the invasion, is set to fall short of some of Ukraine’s demands and the country’s ambition to join the EU may take longer than it would like.

Ukraine applied to join the EU days after Russia invaded last year. 

The EU has embraced the application but rebuffed Ukraine’s calls for a fast track to membership while the country is at war.

EU officials have listed multiple membership requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws.

The process is likely to take years.

The EU has demanded Ukraine tackle what is perceived as endemic state graft.

Zelenskiy has announced dismissals and investigations of an array of officials in the past two weeks.

Asked at the news conference with Zelenskiy about Ukraine’s membership bid, the Commission’s von der Leyen said: “There are no rigid timelines but there are goals that you have to reach.”

Meanwhile, the German government said it had approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from its stocks. 

The tanks could be delivered sooner than advanced Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged last week.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the new tanks being supplied by NATO countries would serve as an “iron fist” in a counteroffensive to smash through Russian lines.

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