The battle for Bakhmut is not over and Ukraine is still fighting hard for the town, according to a White House official.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the United States National Security Council, told reporters on Monday that Ukrainians have not been repulsed from the city, adding that an additional assistance package for Ukraine could be expected this week.
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His remarks came hours after Ukraine also said that Russian forces were “very far” from capturing Bakhmut and that fighting raged around the city administration building where the Wagner Group of mercenaries claimed to have raised the Russian flag.
“Bakhmut is Ukrainian and they have not captured anything and are very far from doing that, to put it mildly,” Serhiy Cherevatiy, spokesperson for the eastern military command, told Reuters news agency by phone.
Earlier on Monday, the Wagner Group, which has led the assault for Bakhmut, claimed it had captured the city’s town hall. Russia’s defence ministry has not confirmed it has full control of the city.
The fight for the industrial city of Bakhmut has become the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s year-long assault on Ukraine. Most of Bakhmut’s prewar population of approximately 70,000 people fled the town in 2022.
Ukrainian troops say it is hard to say how many civilians still remain in Bakhmut, with estimates ranging from 1,000 to 5,000.
Finland to be NATO member
Finland will, meanwhile, officially become a member of the NATO military alliance on Tuesday, the Finnish president’s office said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also told reporters in Brussels on Monday that “tomorrow we will welcome Finland as the 31st member”.
In response to Finland joining NATO, Russia will reportedly strengthen its military capacity.
“We will strengthen our military potential in the western and northwestern direction,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told RIA Novosti news agency.
“In the event that the forces and resources of other NATO members are deployed in Finland, we will take additional steps to reliably ensure Russia’s military security.”
Finland has a 1,300km (810-mile) border with Russia, which will roughly double the military alliance’s frontier with Moscow.
In Slovakia, the Czech and Slovak prime ministers urged the European Union to exert “targeted pressure” on the Kremlin by sticking to sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.
The Czech and Slovak governments, led by Petr Fiala and Eduard Heger, respectively, met in the western Slovak city of Trencin.
“It is important for the EU and its partners to continue targeted pressure on the Russian Federation and thoroughly implement the sanctions,” the premiers said in a statement.
Allies should also “prevent bypassing the sanctions and create mechanisms to punish those responsible for crimes related to this aggression”, they added.