Ukraine hails Bakhmut gains as Zelensky on UK visit
Ukraine hailed on Monday its advances around frontline Bakhmut and President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in London to seek fresh aid as expectations built over a spring offensive.
Ahead of Zelensky's talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Britain pledged "hundreds" of both air-defence missiles and long-range attack drones to fend off Russia's invasion.
"This is a crucial moment in Ukraine's resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke," Sunak said before the talks and as China was to send an envoy to Kyiv for a two-day visit.
Ukraine has announced a series of territorial advances in recent days on the flanks of Russian positions near the flashpoint town of Bakhmut, prompting finger-pointing and concern among Moscow's forces.
"The advance of our troops in the Bakhmut direction is the first success of the offensive in the course of the operation to defend Bakhmut," said commander of the Ukrainian ground forces Oleksandr Syrskyi.
- Spring offensive -
The timing and focus of an expected Ukrainian offensive are unclear, but Zelensky has made a fresh tour of European capitals in recent days to bolster support.
Britain said Monday that it would deliver "hundreds" of both air-defence missiles and long-range attack drones to Ukraine, as Sunak prepared to host Zelensky for talks.
Western heavy weapons and ammunition are key to preparations for Ukraine's high-stakes fightback, which could mark a turning point in the war.
Sunak noted that the talks were taking place in the buildup to a Council of Europe leaders' meeting in Iceland -- which Zelensky will address by video -- and a G7 summit in Japan.
"We must not let them down," the prime minister said in a statement.
"The front lines of (President Vladimir) Putin's war of aggression may be in Ukraine but the fault lines stretch all over the world," he continued.
At the talks, Sunak will confirm "the further UK provision of hundreds of air-defence missiles and further unmanned aerial systems including hundreds of new long-range attack drones with a range of over 200 km" (125 miles), the UK statement said.
"These will all be delivered over the coming months as Ukraine prepares to intensify its resistance to the ongoing Russian invasion."
The latest shipment comes after Britain last week became the first Western country to offer the type of long-range cruise missiles long sought by Ukraine, with its Storm Shadow rockets.
Britain is the second-largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine after the United States, and has added combat flight training to its programme of help, though not fighter jets.
- China visit to Kyiv -
As the fighting appeared poised to increase in Ukraine, a Chinese special envoy will arrive in Kyiv for a two-day visit on Tuesday.
A Ukrainian government official told AFP that China's high-ranking diplomat Li Hui "will be in Kyiv May 16 and 17", a stopover that comes as Beijing seeks to present itself as a mediator in the war.
After months of stalemate, Ukraine has been preparing to retake ground captured by Russia and is shoring up military assistance to help make its troops more battle-ready.
Zelensky made a stop in Paris at the weekend following a visit to Rome where he met Italian leaders and Pope Francis and a stop in Germany, which announced a 2.7-billion-euro ($3-billion) military aid package.
Ukraine has been training troops and readying weapons that analysts say will be key to reclaiming territory in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south.
On the front line, Kyiv said Ukrainian forces had captured more than 10 Russian positions on the outskirts of Bakhmut.
Russia said two of its military commanders had been killed in combat near the town, where fighting has been raging for days.
The head of Russia's private Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin again accused the Russian army of inaction around Bakhmut.