...By Ellen Rey for TDPel Media.
In a highly anticipated move, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited two regions in Ukraine that Moscow claims to have taken over and had a conversation with his commander there while on Tuesday, Russian forces intensified their airstrikes and heavy artillery bombardments on the shattered city of Bakhmut.
In the meantime, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited troops in the eastern town of Avdiivka, roughly 70 kilometres (43 miles) southwest of Bakhmut, and received a briefing on the battlefield situation, the official said.
According to the Kremlin, Putin took part in the military command meeting in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region and visited a national guard headquarters in eastern Luhansk on Monday.
Putin received updates on the situation in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions from the commanders of the airborne troops, the Dnieper army group, as well as other senior officers.
The Kremlin confirmed that neither Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu nor Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov accompanied Putin on his trip as a security precaution.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to the Ukrainian president, mocked Putin’s trip on Twitter by referring to it as a “‘special tour’ of the mass murders’ author in the occupied and ruined territories to enjoy the crimes of his minions for the last time”.
Kyiv and the West blame Russian forces for committing war crimes in the seized territory of Ukraine, which Moscow gainsay.
Putin declared four regions including Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk as seized territory last September following what Ukraine alleged were fake referendums. These four territories are only partially under Russian authority.
In preparation for a Ukrainian counter offensive this spring, Russian forces withdrew from Kherson city, the region’s capital, in November and have since bolstered their positions on the other bank of the Dnipro River.
Since the Russian forces attacked Ukraine 14 months ago, many Western leaders have visited Kyiv for meetings with President Zelenskiy, but Putin has hardly ever visited regions of Ukraine under Russian control.
Last month, Putin visited Crimea which Russia acquired in 2014 and the southeastern city of Mariupol in the Donetsk area.
An unsuccessful Russian winter offensive push left its soldiers mired in a string of battles in the east and south, where advances have been incremental and have cost both sides dearly.
Bakhmut in the Donetsk region has seen months of fighting, with Ukrainian forces holding out despite repeated Russian assertions that they had conquered the city.
The assault on Bakhmut has been a major point of contention between Russia and Ukraine, with the Ukrainian government accusing Russia of violating the ceasefire agreement that was signed in 2022. Ukrainian officials have also accused Russia of using the assault as a pretext to further its territorial ambitions in the region.
On Tuesday, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said, “Currently, the enemy is increasing the activity of heavy artillery and the number of air strikes, turning the city into ruins.”
The seizure of Bakhmut might serve as a springboard for Russia to advance on two larger cities in the Donetsk region – Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, that it has long coveted.
This month, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, which has led Russia’s effort to seize Bakhmut, claimed that Russian forces held control of over 80% of the city. Ukrainian forces have refuted this.
In order to defend its security from what it perceives as a hostile and aggressive West, Russia claims that its “special military operation” in Ukraine, which was initiated on February 24 of last year, was necessary.
According to Ukraine and its Western allies, Russia is fighting an unprovoked war with the intention of annexing Ukrainian territory.
Zelenskiy’s office reported that during his visit to Avdiivka on Tuesday, he gave honours to his troops and said, “I have the honour to be here today, to thank you for your service, for defending our land, Ukraine, our families.”
The Group of Seven foreign ministers recently condemned Russia’s plan to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, an ally of Moscow and the country bordering Ukraine.
The G7 foreign ministers concluded their three-day summit in Japan with a declaration that stated: “Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and its threat to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus are unacceptable.”
“Any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences,” they further added.
The G7 group consists of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, and Canada, all of whom have imposed economic sanctions on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.
The conflict in Ukraine has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, the destruction of entire towns, the eviction of millions of people from their homes, and the upheaval of the international security system. This has pushed Russia to strengthen its relation with non-Western countries, particularly China.
During discussions with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu on Tuesday in Moscow, Russian Defence Minister Shoigu said that the military cooperation between their two nations was a “stabilising” factor in the world and served to lessen the likelihood of violence.
According to the TASS news agency, Li claimed that the purpose of his trip was to demonstrate to the world that China is committed to advancing its strategic partnership with Russia.
Beijing has resisted calling out Putin for invading Ukraine.
In the meantime, the Japanese defence ministry claimed it had sent a jet fighter into action in response to what it claimed were Russian planes gathering intelligence over waters close to Japan. Earlier, Russia claimed that two of its strategic bombers, which are equipped with nuclear bombs, had flown patrol flights over the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk in its far east.
Despite international condemnation and calls for de-escalation, the situation in Ukraine remains highly volatile, with both sides showing no signs of backing down. As the conflict continues to escalate, many are left wondering what the future holds for the region and whether a peaceful resolution is even possible.