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STOCKHOLM: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Wednesday that the devastated eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut could fall into Russian hands in the coming days after months of fierce fighting.
“What we see is that Russia is throwing more troops, more forces and what Russia lacks in quality they try to do in scale,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Stockholm on the sidelines of the meeting of EU defense ministers.
“They have suffered heavy losses, but at the same time, we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may fall in the coming days.”
The head of the Western military alliance, which supports Ukraine, stressed “it is also important to show that this does not represent any turning point of the war.
“It just goes to show that we shouldn’t underestimate Russia. We must continue to provide support to Ukraine,” he said.
Russia will take ‘open road’ into Ukraine if Bakhmut falls: Zelensky
Wagner’s Russian mercenary group said Wednesday it has taken over the eastern part of Bakhmut, an industrial city where fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has raged for months.
The announcement came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that if Bakhmut falls, Moscow will have an “open road” for deeper attacks into the country.
The fierce fighting around Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest in Russia’s more than year-long offensive, which has devastated parts of Ukraine and displaced millions of people.
EU ministers are discussing plans to increase defense production and speed up arms production to Ukraine as it is bombarded by thousands of howitzer shells each day.
“This is now a war of attrition, which is a war of logistics,” Stoltenberg said.
“The current level of energy compared to the current rate of weapons production is not sustainable, and therefore we need to increase production.”
Ukraine will join NATO but in the ‘long term’: Stoltenberg
He welcomed the push by the EU, which shares 21 member states with NATO, to increase defense productivity.
“This is something we are working on. We have already seen important steps taken,” he said.
“But we need to do more because we need to make sure that Ukraine gets the weapons it needs to defend itself against Russian aggression, and we need to replenish our own stocks.”