A senior Ukrainian military commander said Thursday that a counter-attack could be launched soon against "exhausted" Russian forces near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the stage for the longest battle of Moscow's invasion.

"The aggressor has not given up hope of taking Bakhmut at all costs despite losses in manpower and equipment. Russia's main fighting force on this front is the Wagner mercenary group," said the commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky.

"Sparing nothing, they are losing significant strength and becoming exhausted. Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, like we did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk," he added, referring to succesful counter-offensives last year.

Bakhmut, which once had an estimated population of around 70,000 people, has virtually emptied of civilians over months of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces for the town.

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Syrsky's assessment of the fighting comes one day after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announced he had visited Ukrainian forces near the Bakhmut frontline.

Kyiv says Bakhmut is key to holding back Russian forces along the entire eastern front.

Both sides have invested heavily in the fight, even though analysts say the city has little strategic value.

The head of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said this week that his forces were in control of around 70 percent of the city, and a Russian aide in the wider Donetsk region said the city was "practically surrounded".

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