President Vladimir Putin has visited the Russian military headquarters in the eastern regions of Ukraine and discussed the war with a general in charge of airborne troops who reportedly took up a powerful new role in the invasion.
Putin attended an army command meeting in the southern Kherson region and heard reports on the situation there, the Kremlin said on Tuesday. He also visited the headquarters in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region.
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The Kremlin also released a video of the visit showing Putin – dressed in a heavy blue jacket – taking a helicopter to Luhansk, but did not say when any of the meetings took place. On Sunday, Putin was in Moscow for a meeting with Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu.
Russia’s leader heard reports from commanders of the airborne forces and the “Dnieper” army group and other senior officers on the situation in Kherson and Zaporizhia regions – both of which Moscow has proclaimed part of Russia.
“It is important for me to hear your opinion on how the situation is developing, to listen to you, to exchange information,” Putin told the commanders.
Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, commander of Russia’s airborne troops, sat to Putin’s right while Colonel General Oleg Makarevich sat to Putin’s left.
British military intelligence said on Sunday that Teplinsky had been given a major role in the war.
Battle for Bakhmut
Kherson and Zaporizhia are among four Ukrainian regions Russia annexed last September, although it does not fully control any of the areas, in a move condemned as illegal by Kyiv and its allies.
In November, the Russian military retreated from Kherson, the regional capital and the largest city it captured since its February 2022 invasion. Troops have since been reinforcing positions on the opposite bank of the Dnieper river in anticipation of a renewed counteroffensive from Ukraine.
Russian and Ukrainian forces are currently involved in an intense battle for control of eastern Bakhmut, a town once known as a centre for salt mining but now in ruins.
Russian forces are stepping up their use of heavy artillery and air attacks in the devastated city, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said on Tuesday.
Fighting in and around Bakhmut has for months been the epicentre of the war in Ukraine.
“Currently the enemy is increasing the activity of heavy artillery and the number of air strikes, turning the city into ruins,” General Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a statement.
Russia remained committed to taking Bakhmut “at any cost” but was suffering significant losses, he said.
The city, which had a pre-war population of about 70,000, has been Russia’s main target in a winter offensive that has yielded scant gains despite infantry ground combat of an intensity unseen in Europe since World War II.
Bakhmut’s capture could provide a stepping stone for Russia to advance on two bigger cities it has long coveted in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine: Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
The head of the Wagner mercenary group, which has spearheaded Russia’s attempt to take Bakhmut, said this month its fighters controlled more than 80 percent of the city.
Ukraine denied this, saying it still controlled considerably more than 20 percent of the city. The Ukrainian military is widely expected to mount a counterattack in coming weeks or months aimed at recapturing Russian-held territory.