Ukraine withdraws from Avdiivka, Putin hails ‘important victory’

MOSCOW: Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the devastated eastern town of Avdiivka, Kyiv’s military chief said on Saturday, and Russian President Vladimir Putin called the capture of the city “an important victory.”

It was Russia’s biggest advance since it took the city of Bakhmut last May, and came as Ukraine faces acute shortages of ammunition with fresh U.S. military aid delayed for months in Congress.

Nearly two years since Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, it is the clearest sign yet of how the tide has turned in Moscow’s favor after a Ukrainian counteroffensive failed to break through Russian lines last year.

A White House statement on Saturday said U.S. President Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday to underscore the U.S. commitment to continue supporting Ukraine and reiterated the need for Congress to urgently pass the package to resupply Ukrainian forces.

The White House said the withdrawal had been forced upon Ukraine “by dwindling supplies as a result of congressional inaction,” that had forced Ukrainian soldiers to ration ammunition and resulted in “Russia’s first notable gains in months.”

During his speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Zelenskyy said the withdrawal from Avdiivka was the correct decision to safeguard the lives of Ukrainian troops. He also pleaded for more ammunition supplies to make up for an “artificial” shortage.

Putin congratulated military units and their commander after being presented with a report on the capture of the city from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Kremlin said on its website.

“The head of state congratulated Russian soldiers on this success, an important victory,” it said.

“I express my gratitude to all troops under your direction who took part in battles for Avdiivka,” Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying in a telegram to the commander of the “center” group of forces in Ukraine, Colonel-General Andrei Mordvichev.

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