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Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson talks with US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Erik Ramanathan, US ambassador to Sweden on the deck of US Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge in Stockholm, on June 4, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin, in comments about a US decision to send new arms to Ukraine, said Russia was easily coping and was already destroying American-supplied weapons by the dozen, state-run news agency RIA reported on Saturday.

Putin made the remarks in an interview with national television, RIA said. It is due to be shown on Sunday.

Ukraine, meanwhile, said it had recaptured a swathe of the battlefield city of Sievierodonetsk, in a rare counter-offensive against Russia’s main assault force that had been steadily advancing in the east.

The Ukrainian claim could not be independently verified and Moscow said its own forces were making gains there. But it was the first time Kyiv has claimed to have launched a big counter-attack in Sieverodonetsk after days of yielding ground there.

Russia has concentrated its forces on Sievierodonetsk in recent weeks for one of the biggest ground battles of the war, with Moscow appearing to bet its campaign on capturing one of two eastern provinces it claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

Both sides have claimed to have inflicted huge casualties in the fighting for the small industrial city, a battle that military experts say could determine which side has the momentum for a prolonged war of attrition in coming months.

Huge casualties

In the diplomatic sphere, Kyiv rebuked French President Emmanuel Macron for saying it was important not to “humiliate” Moscow.

“We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means,” Macron said in an interview with regional newspapers published on Saturday, adding he was “convinced that it is France’s role to be a mediating power.” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted in response: “Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it.

“Because it is Russia that humiliates itself. We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place. This will bring peace and save lives.” Ukraine now says its aim is to push Russian forces back as far as possible on the battlefield, counting on advanced missile systems pledged in recent days by the United States and Britain to swing the war in their favour.

Asked about Macron’s mediation offer on national television, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said: “Until we receive weapons in their full amount, until we strengthen our positions, until we push them (Russia’s forces) back as far as possible to the borders of Ukraine, there is no point in holding negotiations.” Moscow has said the Western weapons will pour “fuel on the fire,” but will not change the course of what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of nationalists.

Intense fighting

Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk province which includes Sievierodonetsk, said overnight that Ukrainian forces previously in control of just 30% of the city had mounted a counter-attack, recapturing another 20% of it.

Russia’s defence ministry said its troops were forcing the Ukrainians to withdraw across the Siverskiy Donets river to Lysychansk on the opposite bank.

Gaidai said the Russians were blowing up bridges across the river to prevent Ukraine bringing in military reinforcements and delivering aid to civilians in Sievierodonetsk.