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'staggering'

Ukraine is holding its own against Russia, despite 'significant casualties' on 'both sides,' Pentagon official says

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting with NATO allies in Brussels on Wednesday and also hosting a meeting of about 50 nations that are aiding Ukraine militarily as it fights against Russian invaders. The discussions will focus on Ukraine's urgent pleas for more powerful weapons, especially long-range artillery, as Russian forces grind out incremental gains in Sievierdonetsk and elsewhere in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

"Russian military advances in eastern Ukraine this month have raised growing concern in the West that the balance of the war is tipping in Moscow's favor," David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post. "But Biden administration officials think these fears are overblown," currently. "We share the concerns, but for now we believe the Ukrainians are well-positioned and equipped to hold off the advances, while the Russians have their own sustainment challenges," a senior administration official told Ignatius on Tuesday.

Colin Kahl, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, said Tuesday that the "media narrative" Russia is winning is true "to some degree," though Russia's "gains" are block by block, "not large sweeping breakthroughs of Ukrainian defenses," he added. "The Ukrainians remain stalwart defenders. There are significant casualties, but that is true on both sides."

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said late Tuesday that Ukraine is taking "painful losses" in Sievierdonesk, "but we have to hold on" in the Donbas. "The more losses the enemy suffers there, the less strength they will have to continue the aggression." Ukrainian forces killed about 250 Russian troops in the past 24 hours, mostly around Bakhmut and Sievierodonetsk, bringing Russia's invasion death toll to 32,750, Ukraine's military claimed early Wednesday.

"Russian losses of soldiers and equipment have been staggering," Igantius writes. On the other hand, Ukraine desperately needs more Soviet-era artillery shells and more advanced Western weapons systems and the training to use and maintain them.

"We're going to provide the Ukrainians what they need to prosecute the targets inside Ukrainian territory," Kahl said, confirming that an "initial tranche" of four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) have arrived in Ukraine.

"I think that you're about to get to the point where one side or the other will be successful," a senior NATO official tells CNN. "Either the Russians will reach Slovyansk and Kramatorsk or the Ukrainians will stop them here. And if the Ukrainians are able to hold the line here, in the face of this number forces, that will matter."