President Zelensky to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican this weekend
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican on Saturday, diplomatic sources said.
The planned trip, which has not been officially announced, would be just two weeks after the pope said the Vatican was involved in a peace mission to try to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
It comes as Ukraine is reported to be planning a counter-offensive against Russian forces with invading forces said to be in retreat near the besieged city of Bakhmut.
A Ukrainian unit said it had routed a Russian brigade near the city in an incident underlining the task facing the Kremlin as it carries out what it calls a “very difficult” military operation.
The claim appeared to support comments by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary army, who said the Russian brigade had abandoned its positions in Bakhmut, Moscow’s primary target in its winter offensive and scene of the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.
Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who heads Ukraine‘s ground forces, said Russian units in some parts of Bakhmut had retreated by up to two km (1.2 miles) as the result of counter attacks.
Wagner units have led a months-long Russian assault on the eastern city, suffering heavy losses, but Ukrainian forces say the offensive is stalling.
“The special military operation continues. This is a very difficult operation, and, of course, certain goals have been achieved in a year,” Tass new agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as telling a Bosnian Serb television channel.
“We managed to beat up the Ukrainian military machine quite a bit,” said Peskov, citing Russian missile strikes in Ukraine. “This work will continue”.
Peskov said he had no doubt that Bakhmut “will be captured and will be kept under control”. He also said the Russian campaign in eastern Ukraine was proceeding slowly because Russia “is not waging war”.
“Waging war is a completely different matter - it means complete destruction of infrastucture, it means complete destruction of cities,” he said. “We are not doing this. We are trying to preserve infrastructure and preserve human lives.”
Prigozhin has clashed with Russia’s defence ministry in recent weeks and expressed concerns about a promised Ukrainian counter-offensive to recapture territory Russia occupied after the invasion was launched on Febuary 24, 2022.