The Ukrainian military says it has recaptured strategic gas and oil drilling platforms from Russia in the Black Sea, and claimed gains in occupied areas near Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine left in ruins after the war’s longest and deadliest fighting.
The recapture of the so-called Boyko Towers platforms provides an energy source and takes back an asset that Russia seized in 2015 and used to launch helicopters, Ukraine’s ministry of defence said on Monday.
“Russia has been deprived of the ability to fully control the waters of the Black Sea, and this makes Ukraine many steps closer to regaining Crimea,” the main intelligence directorate said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to do all he can to bring back Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and has urged international allies to support the effort.
Ukraine’s reported battlefront gains, which could not be independently confirmed, came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on a train heading for Russia for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The meeting announced by the two leaders’ countries could include discussions of North Korea providing arms to restock Russia’s dwindling arsenal.
In other developments, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock made an unannounced visit to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
She promised support for Ukraine’s path toward European Union membership while calling for additional reforms in the country.
“With enormous courage and determination, Ukraine is also defending the freedom of all of us,” Ms Baerbock said in a statement released by her ministry.
“In the same way that Ukraine stands up for us, it can also count on us.”
She also pledged continued military, economic, and humanitarian support for the country and said the 22 billion euros (£19 billion) provided so far now made Germany second to the US in terms of total support.
Ms Baerbock said that while Ukraine had already made good progress reforming the judiciary and the media, it still had “some way to go” in combating corruption.
In fighting, Ukrainian forces liberated part of the Donetsk province town of Optyne and advanced on the towns of Klishchiivka and Andriivka south of Bakhmut, deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar said.
Combat has persisted on the outskirts of Bakhmut since Ukrainian troops pulled out of the city in May.
Ukraine is trying to gain the high ground in Klishchiivka, to establish artillery control over Bakhmut.