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Russia Focuses on Eastern Ukraine      02/01 06:10


   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia is mustering its military might in the Luhansk 
region of Ukraine, local officials said Wednesday, in what Kyiv suspects is 
preparation for an offensive in the eastern area in coming weeks as the 
anniversary of Moscow's invasion approaches.

   The Kremlin's forces are expelling local residents from their homes near the 
Russian-held parts of the front line so that they can't provide information 
about Russian troop deployments to Ukrainian artillery, Luhansk Gov. Serhii 
Haidai said.

   "There is an active transfer of (Russian troops) to the region and they are 
definitely preparing for something on the eastern front in February," Haidai 

   Military analysts anticipate a new push soon by Moscow's forces, with the 
Institute for the Study of War saying in an assessment late Tuesday that "an 
imminent Russian offensive in the coming months is the most likely course of 

   A new offensive might also coincide with the invasion anniversary on Feb. 24.

   The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported Wednesday that 
Russia is also concentrating its efforts in neighboring Donetsk province, 
especially in its bid to capture the key city of Bakhmut.

   Donetsk and Luhansk provinces make up the Donbas, an industrial region 
bordering Russia that President Vladimir Putin identified as a goal from the 
war's outset and where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian 
authorities since 2014.

   The regional governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, posted images of the 
aftermath of the shelling in Bakhmut, showing huge black holes in residential 
buildings in the embattled city.

   He said that Russia is "actively deploying new military personnel to the 

   Donetsk was one of four provinces that Russia illegally annexed in the fall, 
but it controls only about half of it. To take the remaining half, Russian 
forces have no choice but to go through Bakhmut, which offers the only approach 
to bigger Ukrainian-held cities.

   Russian forces have been trying for months to capture Bakhmut. 
Moscow-installed authorities in Donetsk claimed Russian troops are "closing the 
ring" around the city.

   Russian shelling of Bakhmut, where most residents have fled and others spend 
much of their time in cellars, killed at least five civilians and wounded 10 
others on Tuesday, Ukraine's presidential office said Wednesday.

   Ukraine is keen to secure more Western military aid as it tries to fend off 
the much larger Russian forces. It has already won pledges of tanks and now 
wants more.

   Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 
tweeted Wednesday that talks are underway on securing longer-range missiles and 
fighter jets from Ukraine's allies.

   Asked to comment on media reports about a new package of U.S. military 
assistance to Ukraine expected to be announced soon, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry 
Peskov described it as "a direct path to inciting tensions and taking the 
escalation to a new level."

   "It will require additional efforts on our part, but it won't change the 
course of events," he said in a conference call with reporters.

   The Western allies are trying to broaden their coalition in support of 

   NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday in Tokyo that he 
sought stronger cooperation and more "friends" for the alliance in the 
Indo-Pacific region.

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