Ukraine acknowledged some Russian gains inside the eastern battlefield city of Bakhmut, while insisting yesterday that it was inflicting greater losses on the Russian attackers than its own forces were taking in defence.
In a potential escalation of Russia’s diplomatic feud with the United States, Moscow’s FSB security service said it had arrested an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, on suspicion of spying for Washington.
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“Enemy forces had a degree of success in their actions aimed at storming the city of Bakhmut.”
— General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces
The newspaper denied the allegations and demanded the immediate release of “trusted and dedicated reporter” Gershkovich. There was no immediate response from Washington.
Gershkovich, a 31-year-old who has worked in Russia as a journalist for six years, is the highest-profile American arrested there since basketball star Brittney Griner, who was freed in December after 10 months in jail on drugs charges.
The FSB said it arrested Gershkovich in the Urals industrial city of Yekaterinburg. He was brought to Moscow, where a court at a closed hearing ordered him held in pre-trial detention until May 29.
The TASS state news agency said he pleaded not guilty. The authorities released no evidence publicly, and TASS said the case had been marked “top secret”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he believed Gershkovich had been “caught red-handed”.
The small mining city of Bakhmut has been the site of the bloodiest infantry battle in Europe since World War Two as Russian forces have sought their first victory since mid-2022 in a huge winter assault.
Ukraine has been on the defensive for nearly five months but says it is planning a counteroffensive soon.
“Enemy forces had a degree of success in their actions aimed at storming the city of Bakhmut,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said in an overnight report. “Our defenders are holding the city and are repelling numerous enemy attacks.”
The report gave no details of the Russian gains. The Institute for the Study of War think tank said Russian troops and Wagner mercenaries had captured territory in the south and southwest of the city over the past two days, and Wagner had occupied a metal plant in its north this week.
Russian forces have been advancing slowly inside Bakhmut in intense street fighting for weeks. Kyiv seemed likely a month ago to abandon the city but has since decided to stay and fight for it, hoping to break the attacking force.
Deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar said in a social media post that losses were inevitable, but “the enemy’s losses are many times greater”.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a Ukrainian military spokesperson, told national television: “Bakhmut remains the epicenter of military activity…It’s still constantly ‘hot’ there.”
As winter has turned to spring, the pressing question is how much longer Russia can sustain its offensive, and when or if Ukraine will strike back.
There are signs its campaign is slowing down. The number of daily Russian attacks on the front line reported by Ukraine’s general staff has declined almost by half over the past four weeks.