Russia denies Ukrainian breakthroughs along front lines
Russia's defence ministry has denied reports that Ukrainian forces have broken through in various places along the front lines and said the military situation was under control.
Moscow reacted after Russian military bloggers, writing on Telegram, reported what they said were Ukrainian advances north and south of the city of Bakhmut, with some suggesting a long-awaited counter offensive by pro-Kyiv forces had started.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had earlier said the offensive had yet to start.
"Statements circulated by individual Telegram channels about 'defence breakthroughs' that took place in different areas along the line of military contact do not correspond to reality," the Russian defence ministry said in a Telegram post.
"The overall situation in the area of the special military operation is under control," it said in a statement, using the Kremlin's description of the war in Ukraine.
The fact the Russian ministry felt obliged to release the statement reflects what Moscow acknowledges is a "very difficult" military operation.
Kyiv says it has pushed Russian forces back over the past several days near the eastern city of Bakhmut in local assaults, while a full-blown counteroffensive involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of Western tanks is still being prepared.
"We still need a bit more time," Zelenskiy said in an interview with European broadcasters.
Reuters was not able to verify the reports and it was unclear whether Ukrainian forces were attacking in force or just mounting armed reconnaissance raids.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia's Wagner private army which has led the fight in Bakhmut, on Thursday said Ukrainian operations were "unfortunately, partially successful". He called Zelenskiy's assertion that the counteroffensive had not yet begun "deceptive".
Ukrainian forces had already received enough equipment from Western allies for their campaign but were waiting for the full complement of armoured vehicles to arrive, Zelenskiy said.
In a major step up in Western military support for Ukraine, Britain said it was sending Storm Shadow cruise missiles that would give Kyiv the ability to strike deep behind Russian lines.
The missiles "are now going into, or are in, the country itself," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament in London, adding the missiles were being supplied so they could be used within Ukraine.
Western countries including the US had previously held back from providing long range weapons for fear of provoking Russian retaliation. Wallace said Britain had weighed the risk.
The Kremlin earlier said if Britain provided these missiles it would require "an adequate response from our military".
In an evening address on Thursday, Zelenskiy said he would soon be able to report very important defence-related news.
"Foreign flags will never reign on our land, and our people will never be enslaved," he said.
The war in Ukraine is at a turning point, with Kyiv poised to unleash its new counterstrike after six months of keeping its forces on the defensive, while Russia mounted a huge winter offensive that failed to capture significant territory.
Moscow's main target for months has been Bakhmut, which it has yet to fully capture despite the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.