Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday at the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Japan that Bakhmut was “only in our hearts.”
His statement came hours after the head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, declared that his forces had fully captured the eastern city of Bakhmut.
“For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts,” Zelensky said, standing alongside President Biden. “There is nothing in this place.”
The eight-month battle for Bakhmut has been the longest and among the deadliest conflicts in the 15-month-old Ukraine-Russia War. It has been a long-sought prize for Russian President Vladimir Putin because possession of the regional transport and logistics hub by Russian forces could potentially open up an advance on two bigger Ukrainian cities in the Donetsk region: Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
Analysts, however, are asserting that a Russian victory in Bakhmut is unlikely to turn the tide in the war.
Bakhmut is “not tactically or operationally significant,” Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War said late Saturday, adding that controlling these areas “does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations,” nor does it allow Russia “to defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks.”
Ukraine has yet to begin an anticipated major counteroffensive to retake territory captured by Russia.
Zelensky’s comments about Bakhmut came as Biden announced an additional $357 million in aid for Ukraine, including more ammunition, artillery, and vehicles.
“I thanked him for the significant financial assistance,” Zelensky tweeted afterward.
In a statement released after closed-door meetings on Friday, the G-7 leaders—from Canada France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the U.S.—vowed to tighten punishments against Russia for its invasion of its sovereign neighbor.
“Our support for Ukraine will not waver,” the statement said, adding that the countries vowed “to stand together against Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”
The group unveiled a new round of sanctions against Moscow, and aimed to redouble efforts to enforce existing sanctions. The U.S. announced it would blacklist about 70 Russians and third-country entities involved in Russia’s defense production. More than 300 individuals, entities, aircraft and vessels will be sanctioned by the U.S.
Also at the G-7 President Biden, who had previously dug in his heels, said he would support a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s fighter jets and is reportedly prepared to approve the export of the jets to Ukraine from allies’ own supplies.
On CNN Sunday morning, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the Group of Seven nations’ commitment to supporting Ukraine goes far beyond the current war.
“The G-7 agreed this weekend that the United States and our fellow democracies’ commitment to Ukraine is not just about this current fight,” said Sullivan. “It is about the long term. It is about the future—a future when this war is over but the Russian threat has not entirely disappeared. And we have to plan for that part of the equation as well as giving the Ukrainians what they need to prevail on the battlefield today.”