Ukraine troops withdraw from front-line city of Avdiivka, army chief says

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the front-line city of Avdiivka, the new army chief announced, after months of heavy fighting and little progress in repelling Russian forces in the country’s eastern front.

“I decided to withdraw our units from the town and move to defence from more favourable lines in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen,” Oleksandr Syrskii said on Saturday, days after taking the helm of the Ukrainian military in a major shake-up.

Before issuing orders to pull out of Avdiivka, Tarnavsky on Friday said several Ukrainian soldiers had been captured by Russian forces.

The city has important symbolic value and Moscow hopes its capture will make Ukraine’s bombing of Donetsk more difficult. The withdrawal comes ahead of Russian presidential elections scheduled for March in which incumbent Vladimir Putin is set to win a fifth term, allowing him to continue leading the invasion of Ukraine.

Avdiivka lies in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which the Kremlin has claimed to be part of Russia since a 2022 annexation that remains unrecognised by nearly all United Nations members.

At the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Zelenskyy pushed for countries to give Ukraine longer-range weapons and more air defence systems.

“Unfortunately keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficit of weapons, particularly in deficit of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” Zelenskyy said in Germany. “The self-weakening of democracy over time undermines our joint results.”

He also promised “to surprise Russia” later this year with new drone systems and electronic warfare.

Zelenskyy on Friday signed security pacts with France and Germany to lock in support for Kyiv. He is also expected to make further pleas for financing and armaments at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

All 27 European Union countries this month agreed on an additional 50-billion-euro ($54bn) aid package for Ukraine.

United States President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Avdiivka risked falling to Russian forces because of ammunition shortages following months of Republican congressional opposition to a new US military aid package for Kyiv.

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