Russia announces capture of strategic railway town in eastern Ukraine
The Russian military claims to have taken the town of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, a key rail hub in the Donetsk region. The capture could signal a change in momentum in the war in Ukraine.
“As a result of the joint actions of Donetsk People’s Republic militia units and the Russian Armed Forces, the town of Krasny Liman has been completely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists,” the defense ministry said in a statement, using the name Russian for Lyman. .
On Saturday, Russia also said it had successfully tested hypersonic missiles in the Arctic. The Department of Defense said the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile traveled 1,000 kilometers and “successfully hit” a target in the Arctic.
Lyman’s takeover sets the stage for Russia to begin the next phase of its offensive in the Donbass region. The city is located 40 kilometers west of Sievierodonetsk, the largest city in Donbass still held by Ukrainian forces.
Sievierodonetsk, one of the main centers of Moscow’s offensive, is now the target of violent attacks. The governor of the Lugansk region, which together with Donetsk forms the Donbass, said on Friday that Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk.
“If Russia succeeds in gaining control of these areas, it would most likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantial political achievement and presented to the Russian people as justification for the invasion,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Saturday.
The eastern region of Donbass is Ukraine’s industrial heartland and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Moscow of perpetrating “genocide” there.
In his Friday night video address, Zelenskyy said Ukraine will defend “as much as our current defense resources allow”.
He issued a note of defiance against the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine: “If the occupiers think that Lyman or Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are mistaken. Donbass will be Ukrainian.”
Ukraine seeks advanced rockets
US military officials acknowledge having repeatedly spoken to Ukrainian officials about Kyiv’s demands for newer and more advanced weapons that could help stave off Russian gains in the Donbass, but decline to say publicly whether those systems will be delivered anytime soon.
Ukraine has been pleading with the United States for weeks to get American-made Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS, that are more powerful and maneuverable than howitzers and other artillery systems than Washington and the West have provided to date.
Those calls have only intensified as Russian forces have advanced into eastern Ukraine, achieving what senior US defense officials have described as “additional gains” in a fight that has largely featured artillery and other so-called long-range fire.
“We are attentive and aware of private and public Ukrainian requests for what is known as the multiple launch rocket system,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters. “But I will not preempt a decision that has not yet been made.”
“We are in constant communication with them about their needs,” he added. “We work every day to bring weapons and systems into Ukraine, and every day weapons and systems come into Ukraine that literally help them in the fight.”
There are, however, indications that US officials may be ready to send a Ukrainian MLRS to help repel the latest Russian offensive.
Several U.S. officials, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity, said the Biden administration was considering sending some MLRS to Ukraine, with a possible announcement next week.
Later Friday, two US officials speaking to Politico confirmed that the US was open to sending MLRS to Ukraine, but said a final decision had yet to be made.
The United States has two multiple launch rocket systems – the M270 and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. Both fire similar 227mm rockets. The M270 can fire up to 12 rockets, while the more agile M142 can fire up to six.
Depending on the type of rocket, the M270 can hit targets up to 70 kilometers away, twice the range of US howitzers currently in Ukraine’s arsenal. The HIMARS system can hit targets up to 300 kilometers away.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s top military official, Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, took to Telegram, calling for “weapons that will allow us to hit the enemy from a great distance.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by warning that supplying Ukraine with weapons that could reach Russian territory would be “a serious step towards an unacceptable escalation”.
The debate over how best to supply Ukraine with weapons comes as Russian forces in eastern Ukraine appeared to be making more progress despite what US military officials have described as fierce resistance from Ukrainian troops.
On Friday, Russian-backed separatists claimed to have captured the center of Lyman, a key rail hub in the Donbass.
Other Russian forces managed to encircle most of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city under Ukrainian control, with some reports indicating that Russian forces are also now in the city itself.
Ukrainian officials in Sievierodonetsk said 90% of the city had been destroyed by shelling, but Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai remained defiant in a Friday social media post.
“The Russians will not be able to take over the Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts predicted,” he said. “We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves.”
However, Gaidai also admitted “it is possible that in order not to be surrounded, we will have to retreat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Friday.
According to Nehammer, Putin has offered to end natural gas deliveries to Austria and discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine.
“The Russian president is committed to having and having access to prisoners of war, including the International Red Cross,” the Austrian Chancellor said. “On the other side, of course, he also demands access to Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine.
However, Nehammer said he doubted Putin was interested in negotiations to end the war.
“I feel like Putin wants to create facts now that I guess he will take in the negotiations [later],” he said.
VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press, France Press and Reuters.