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Russian defense minister makes rare visit to front line in eastern Ukraine

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, center, speaks to a Russian officer in Ukraine on Saturday. (Photo by AP)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has met with the country’s troops in a rare visit to the front line in eastern Ukraine, as Russian forces closed in on the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Shoigu inspected troops at a forward command post in the eastern Donetsk region, Defense Ministry said in a Telegram post.

Shoigu reportedly listened to a situation report and handed out awards to Russian troops fighting on the front line with Ukraine.

"The awards are deserved and earned, you are fighting properly. A lot of work lies ahead," he told the troops.

The visit comes as a fierce battle is underway for the control of Bakhmut. Russian military commanders said Friday that the city was almost completely surrounded, with only one road still open for Ukrainian troops.

“Within the last 36 hours two key bridges in Bakhmut have been destroyed,” Britain's Defense Ministry said in its regular intelligence bulletin, adding that “Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the town are increasingly limited.”

Ukraine's actions suggest that it may be planning to pull out of parts of the city, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said late on Friday.

On the other side of the ledger, Moscow seems to be determined to capture Bakhmut and push forward since the West has pledged hundreds of modern tanks and armored vehicles to equip Ukrainian forces.

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, Germany approved a plan to provide Kiev with 178 Leopard 1 tanks. The Ukrainian government had claimed previously that the tanks would be a game-changer on the battlefield.

Days after the declaration by Berlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a fiery speech that Russia would definitely defeat Ukraine, which he said is in the grip of a new incarnation of Nazism, just as it defeated Nazi Germany in Stalingrad 80 years ago.

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