Russia has already begun its anticipated spring offensive in Ukraine, sending thousands of additional troops in an attempt to overwhelm Ukraine’s defenses, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.
“The reality is that we have seen the start already,” Stoltenberg said. “We see how they are sending more troops, more weapons, more capabilities.”
Stoltenberg, speaking ahead of a two-day meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, Belgium, confirmed Ukraine claims that Russian troops appeared to be pushing forward with little regard for their own heavy losses. And he said NATO plans to increase its ammunition stockpiles that have been depleted by the war.
A proposal to provide fighter jets to Ukraine would be discussed, Stoltenberg said, denying Russian assertions that providing them would make NATO countries “direct” parties to the conflict.
FIGHTER JETS COULD BE KEY: Ukraine sets its sight on warplanes
►In the the Luhansk region of the Donbas, Russian troops pulled back after several days of intense fighting near Kreminna, Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai told Ukrainian TV.
►In the partially occupied southern region of Kherson, artillery hit more than 20 cities and villages – including the regional capital that was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November.
Russia gains ground in Bakhmut: ‘Little by little they are winning’
The battle for the pivotal city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the invasion. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said the situation in Bakhmut’s northern suburb of Paraskoviivka was “difficult” amid intense shelling and storming actions by Russian troops.
Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said the shelling was intensifying and that Russian forces appeared to be adding manpower: “We’re seeing a very tough battle in which the Russians aren’t sparing neither themselves nor us.”
Moscow controls both main roads into the city, leaving one back route left – a slender supply line, the BBC reports.
“They have been trying to take the city since July,” Iryna Rybakova, press officer for Ukraine’s 93rd Brigade, told BBC. “Little by little they are winning now. They have more resources, so if they play the long game they will win. I can’t say how long it will take.
“Maybe they will run out of resources. I really hope so.”
Ukraine officials blast Italian ex-premier Berlusconi
Ukraine officials took Italian ex-prime minister Berlusconi to task Monday after the ex-prime minister blamed Zelenskyy for the war. Belusconi, breaking with current Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on the issue, said Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if Zelenskyy “would have ceased attacking the two autonomous republics of Donbass.”
Meloni’s office, which said her government maintains “solid and unwavering” support for Ukraine. Kyiv officials were more dramatic in their dissent.
“Berlusconi’s senseless accusations against Zelenskyy are an attempt to kiss Putin’s hands, bloodied up to the elbows,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook. He accused Berlusconi, a Putin supporter, of trying to “show his loyalty to the Russian dictator.”.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Live Ukraine updates: Russian offensive begins, tide turns in Bakhmut