'Little by little they are winning': Tide turns in key Ukraine city: Updates as Russian offensive begins.

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Russia has already begun its expected 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, 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, while expressing concern that Ukraine is spending ammunition much faster than its allies can supply it.

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 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 of the same name recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November.

A Ukrainian tank rides to its position in the frontline in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Feb. 12, 2023.
A Ukrainian tank rides to its position in the frontline in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Feb. 12, 2023.

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.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said 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."

Moldovan leader urges vigilance, says Russia sought to subvert government

Moldova’s president claimed Monday that Moscow was plotting to overthrow her government with the aid of external saboteurs to put the nation “at the disposal of Russia” and derail its European Union aspirations. President Maia Sandu said her nation's intelligence services had confirmed plans – intercepted by Ukraine – developed by the Russian secret services to destroy Moldova's democracy.

"I want to ask you to stay vigilant, be attentive and trust the official information, as the most aggressive form of attack is the information attack," she said. "The Kremlin’s attempts to bring violence in our country will fail. We should keep calm. We should trust the Republic of Moldova."

Ukraine officials blast former Italian premier Berlusconi

Ukraine officials took former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to task Monday after he blamed Zelenskyy for the war. Belusconi, breaking with current Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on the conflict, said Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if Zelenskyy “would have ceased attacking the two autonomous republics of Donbas."

Meloni’s office 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."

Keeping Zaporizhzhia or capturing Luhansk? Russian military faces dilemma

While making a push for the entire Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin remains intent on retaining control of the southern Zaporizhzhia province, the British Defense Ministry says in its latest assessment of the war.

The reason is Russia wants to establish a "land bridge'' from its Rostov region to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula it illegally annexed in 2014. That land connector would be threatened if Ukraine recaptured Zaporizhzhia.

On the other hand, "Ukrainian success in Luhansk (province) would further undermine Russia’s professed war aim of ‘liberating’ the Donbas,'' the ministry said. "Deciding which of these threats to prioritize countering is likely one of the central dilemmas for Russian operational planners.''

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Russian offensive begins, tide turns in Bakhmut