Russia says its defense minister visited the Zaporizhzhia area of southern Ukraine.


Russia’s defense minister has visited troops near the front line in the partly occupied Zaporizhzhia area of southern Ukraine, according to a statement issued on Friday by the Russian Defense Ministry.

The Zaporizhzhia region, roughly half of which is occupied by Russian forces, is considered a likely focus of Ukraine’s looming counteroffensive.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that its top official, Sergei K. Shoigu, inspected a forward command post in the Zaporizhzhia area, where he was briefed on the “current situation” and “combat tasks performed by Russian troops.” A video accompanying the statement on the Telegram messaging app showed Mr. Shoigu walking through a warren of concrete underground passageways, meeting with commanders and pinning a medal on a soldier.

The ministry did not specify when or exactly where the visit took place. As in March, when the ministry said he visited the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the details of Mr. Shoigu’s travel could not be independently verified.

It comes as Ukrainian officials have said preparations for their counteroffensive are in the final stages, and amid mounting signs of anxiety about the campaign among Russian pro-war military bloggers. In recent weeks, the Russian occupation authorities in more than a dozen towns and villages in the Zaporizhzhia region have issued “mandatory” evacuation orders, citing intensified fighting.

Some of the war’s deadliest combat in recent months has involved Russian efforts to capture the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces have made advances in the past week to the north and south of the city, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company that has led much of the assault in Bakhmut, claimed that Ukraine’s counteroffensive already was “in full swing.”

Mr. Prigozhin, known for his outspoken and often-self-serving commentary, said last week that Ukrainian forces were intent on first attacking Wagner’s forces in and around Bakhmut and then would go on to target Zaporizhzhia.

In its statement on Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Mr. Shoigu had ordered commanders to “carry out comprehensive reconnaissance” to uncover Ukraine’s plans “in advance and prevent their implementation.”

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