Moscow’s forces are pushing towards two towns in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporozhye, where fighting intensified this week after months of stagnation on the front, Russian state media reported.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian official in the region, said the offensive was concentrated around two towns: Orihiva, about 50 km (30 miles) south of the capital of the Ukrainian-controlled region of Zaporozhye, and Khuliyopol, further east.
“The front is mobile, especially in two directions: Orihiv and Hulyajpolje,” said Rogov, as reported by the RIA Novosti agency.
He said that active fighting is taking place in those areas, according to the agency.
“The initiative is in our hands.
The Russian army later claimed for the second day in a row that it had taken “more favorable lines and positions” after “offensive operations” in the Zaporozhye region.
It is claimed to have hit Ukrainian positions in the village of Lezhino, outside the regional capital of Zaporozhye, which did not fall into the hands of Ukrainian forces.
Al Jazeera was unable to verify the reports.
In its daily report on Sunday, the Ukrainian military said “more than 15 settlements were hit by artillery fire” in Zaporozhye.
Earlier this week, Rogov announced a “local offensive” around Orihiv and said the Russian army had taken control of the village of Lobkovo, near the Dnieper River.
He also said this week that fighting had “suddenly intensified” in the southern region.
The front in the south of Ukraine has recently been much quieter than in the east, and Moscow withdrew from the capital Kherson in November.
Russia claims to have annexed the Zaporozhye region along with three other Ukrainian regions, but does not fully control it.
While Moscow controls large parts of the southern part of the region, its capital Zaporozhye and the northern part are held by Kiev.
Russia warns the West
The reports come as a Russian official said governments providing more powerful weapons to Ukraine could cause “a global tragedy that would destroy their countries”.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, warned that the countries’ decision to supply Ukraine would lead to a “global catastrophe”.
“If Washington and NATO deliver weapons that would be used to attack peaceful cities and try to occupy our territory as they are threatening, it would provoke retaliation with more powerful weapons,” he said.
Germany is one of Ukraine’s main arms donors and has ordered a review of its stockpile of Leopard 2s in preparation for a possible green light.
Nonetheless, the government in Berlin has shown caution at every step of increasing its commitments to Ukraine, a reluctance seen as rooted in its history and political culture.
Meanwhile, France and Germany pledged to show “unwavering support” to Ukraine during ceremonies and talks on Sunday to mark the 60th anniversary of their post-World War II friendship treaty. In a joint declaration, the countries said they would “stand by Ukraine as long as necessary.”
They also pledged to “work together for a European Union that is more resilient, sustainable and able to act independently”. The treaty that sealed the bond between longtime enemies France and Germany 60 years ago was the basis of today’s EU.
Germany’s continuity has drawn heavy criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic states, countries on NATO’s eastern flank that have been controlled by Moscow in the past and feel particularly threatened by Russia’s renewed imperial ambitions.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that if Germany does not agree to transfer Leopard tanks to Ukraine, his country is ready to build a “smaller coalition” of countries that would still send their own.