Ukraine war: Russia ‘to increase air defences to counter Finland’s Nato accession’

Russian forces step up attacks around eastern cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, says Kyiv

Russia plans to increase air defences over its northwestern border to counter Finland’s accession to Nato, a commander in its aerospace forces has said, Reuters reports.

Lt Gen Andrei Demin, the deputy commander-in-chief of aerospace forces, also said further reforms of Russian air defences were “undoubtedly planned and will be implemented”.

In an interview published on Monday with the defence ministry’s official Red Star newspaper, Lt Gen Demin said the purpose of upcoming changes was “the development of the armed forces, aimed at improving the air defence system of the Russian Federation”.

Russia shares a 1,300km (800-mile) border with Finland, which joined Nato last week – a decision prompted by the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.


On the battlefield, Russia’s forces kept up a barrage of attacks along the front concentrated in two Ukrainian cities in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine’s military reported.

Fighting was heaviest along the western approaches to Bakhmut, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Sunday, one of the two cities in the east, along with Avdiivka, that Russia’s military has been targeting.

Kyiv said it repelled more than 40 enemy strikes over the past 24 hours.

It said Russian forces had launched unsuccessful advances on areas west of Bakhmut, now largely destroyed but with a pre-war population of 70,000. At least 10 towns and villages had come under Russian shelling.

The report said Russian forces also made no headway in attacks on Avdiivka, the second focus of fighting in the east, and reported widespread Russian shelling in northern regions.

“In central Zaporizhzhia and southern Kherson region, enemy forces continued to build fortifications,” it said. “Several towns were shelled.”

Russian forces have been besieging Bakhmut for months in the longest battle in more than a year of war.

The military have said Ukrainian forces will keep defending Bakhmut against repeated Russian attacks, though Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy last week acknowledged that if troops risked being encircled they could be pulled back.

In a nightly weekend video address, Mr Zelenskiy denounced Russian air strikes coinciding with the observance of Orthodox Palm Sunday, saying Moscow was further isolating itself from the world.

Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service said a man (50) and his daughter (11) were killed after Russian forces struck a residential building in Zaporizhzhia, in the southeast.

A woman identified as the wife and mother of the victims was pulled from under the rubble.

“This is how the terrorist state marks Palm Sunday,” M rZelenskiy said in his address. “This is how Russia places itself in even greater isolation from the world.”

He praised several units defending positions in the east and said he hoped Palm Sunday next year “will take place with peace and freedom for all our people”.

The majority of Ukraine's 41 million people are Orthodox Christians who celebrate Easter a week from now.

Pope Francis, who has been critical of Russia’s war, prayed for peace during Easter events in the Vatican: “Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia.”

Russia's defence ministry said its forces had destroyed a depot with 70,000 tonnes of fuel near Zaporizhzhia.

The forces had destroyed Ukrainian army warehouses storing missiles, ammunition and artillery in the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk, the ministry added.

Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

Officials in the south said Russian aircraft had used guided bombs against towns in the Kherson region.

Elsewhere, the US Department of Defense says it has opened an interagency effort to assess the impact that leaked intelligence documents could have on US national security and on its allies and partners, as it hunts for the source of the leak.

“The Department of Defense continues to review and assess the validity of the photographed documents that are circulating on social media sites and that appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material,” the department said in a statement.

The Pentagon has also reportedly referred the issue to the Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal investigation.

One of the documents, dated February 23rd and marked “Secret,” outlines in detail how Ukraine’s S-300 air defence systems would be depleted by May 2nd at the current usage rate.

Officials say the breadth of topics addressed in the documents – which touch on the war in Ukraine, China, the Middle East and Africa – suggest they may have been leaked by an American rather than an ally. – Agencies