Zelenskyy seeks German, French support as Russia tightens noose on Avdiivka

Ukraine president’s trip to Berlin and Paris comes as battle for eastern city, one of the bloodiest in near two-year war, rages.

Ukraine’s army says heavy battles are raging with pressing Russian forces in the front-line city of Avdiivka, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy embarked on a mini-European tour in a new attempt to secure much-needed aid.

The army said on Friday its forces were taking up “new positions” in the eastern city as the second anniversary of the war finds Ukraine faced with battlefield challenges and a shortage of ammunition stockpiles amid delays in Western military assistance.

“Fierce battles are taking place within the city,” Ukrainian General Oleksandr Tarnavskiy said on social media. “Our troops are using all available forces and means to restrain the enemy,” he added, calling the situation “difficult but controlled”.

“New positions have been prepared and powerful fortifications continue to be prepared, taking into account all possible scenarios,” said Tarnavskiy, adding that commanders have been tasked to “stabilise the situation”.

Russia has been trying to capture the city since October and has surrounded it on three sides, leaving limited resupply routes for Ukrainian forces.

The fraught situation and questions on Ukraine’s ability to hold Avdiivka have fuelled speculation that Russia hopes to take control of it before the Russian presidential election next month, where Vladimir Putin is set to be re-elected.

(Al Jazeera)

Capturing Avdiivka is a crucial aim for Russia as it would allow it complete control of the two eastern Donbas provinces – Donetsk and Luhansk.

But Zelenskyy, who arrived in Germany on Friday before heading to France later in the day, said his government was sending to the region as much support as possible.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that our warriors have enough managerial and technological capabilities to save as many Ukrainian lives as possible,” Zelenskyy, who last week replaced his popular army chief and reshuffled his military command, said during his evening address.

The army has also rushed reserve fighters from its Third Assault Brigade, comprised of assault infantry and one of Ukraine’s most prominent fighting groups, to the eastern town.

On Thursday, the unit said on Telegram that the situation in Avdiivka was “hell” and “threatening and unstable”.

“The situation at the moment the brigade was brought in was extremely critical.”

The brigade added that it had conducted a raid against Russian forces in parts of the city and inflicted heavy casualties.

Reporting from the city of Kharkiv, further north, Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride said the situation looked “increasingly precarious” for Ukrainian soldiers defending Avdiivka.

“At some point, and we may be reaching that point, the Ukrainians may have to decide it’s not worth holding on to something for the sake of the lives of their men and it’s time maybe to pull back,” he said.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also told reporters in Washington on Thursday night that “Avdiivka is at risk of falling into Russian control,” citing Ukrainian reports.

The battle for the city has been one of the bloodiest fighting zones since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Many have compared it with the fight for Bakhmut, where tens of thousands of soldiers were killed and Russia seized control.

However, Ukrainian leaders have highlighted the increasingly tricky situation on the eastern front lines because of ammunition shortages.

A possible $60bn package of military aid has been held up in the United States since last year because of wrangling in Congress.

Alongside with the US stalling, the European Union has admitted that it will only be able to send half of the one million artillery shells it promised by March.

During Zelenskyy’s talks in Berlin and Paris on Friday, the Ukrainian president will attempt to secure guarantees for his country when the war ends.

The German defence ministry announced that a deal had been signed between Zelenskyy and Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday and that Berlin has prepared a military support package worth 1.13 billion euros ($1.22 bn) that is focused on air defence and artillery.

“Our security agreement with Ukraine is historic. For the first time in its history, the Federal Republic of Germany is acting as a guarantor state,” said Defence Minister Boris Pistorius in a statement from the ministry.

The French presidency also confirmed that a security agreement would be signed but did not provide specifics.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies