Key developments on May 21:
- Russian attacks kill 3, injure 7 in Kherson, Donetsk, Kharkiv oblasts
- U.S. to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16, says Biden
- Russia hasn't captured Bakhmut, says Zelensky
- Ukrainian troops may soon encircle Bakhmut, top general says
U.S. President Joe Biden on May 21 pledged support for Ukraine's Air Force, saying the U.S. would start training Ukrainian pilots to fly fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets.
"I assured President (Volodymyr) Zelensky, together with all G7 members, our allies, and partners around the world, we will not waver. (Vladimir) Putin will not break our resolve as he thought he could two years ago, almost three years ago," Biden said during the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
Zelensky assured that Ukraine's military would not use Western-provided fighter jets to attack Russian territory, Biden told reporters.
Biden's pledge followed the decision to allow its allies to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. The move was welcomed by several European countries, who committed to training Ukrainian fighter pilots.
Ukraine endorsed the move after Kyiv had been campaigning for F-16s to be provided for months.
It's unclear when Ukrainian pilots would start training and when Ukraine could receive Western fighter jets.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko expressed Moscow's concerns, claiming that Western countries would face "colossal risks" if Ukraine were to receive the F-16s.
When asked about whether the supply of F-16s is a "colossal risk," as Russia claims, Biden said, "It is. For them (Russians)."
The U.S.-built F-16 has been in service since the 1970s and is operated by over 20 countries as it provides enhanced situational awareness, precision targeting, and overall combat effectiveness.
Providing Ukraine's Air Force with F-16s would represent a substantial upgrade in the country's security capabilities.
Critics argue that allies' reluctance to supply F-16, Typhoon, and Dassault fighter jets and long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine will prevent Ukraine from launching a counteroffensive and liberating the rest of Russian-occupied territories.
As Bakhmut allegedly falls, Ukraine advances near
As Russia claimed its forces "captured" Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine's forces keep advancing on the flanks and are approaching a "tactical encirclement" of the embattled city, Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine's Land Forces, reported on May 21.
Tactical encirclement is a strategic maneuver aiming to trap the Russian forces, limiting their movement and reinforcement.
Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade reported an advance in the area of 1 square kilometer near Bakhmut on May 21.
Syrskyi also said that Ukraine's military controls an "insignificant" part of Bakhmut, but this foothold would be sufficient to enter the ruined city "if the situation changed."
Russia's Defense Ministry and the Kremlin-controlled Wagner mercenary outfit claimed complete control of Bakhmut on May 20. The claim was unequivocally dismissed by Ukraine's authorities and the military.
Zelensky said on May 21 that Russian troops had not captured Bakhmut.
"The situation is difficult, but it's under control," Syrskyi said on May 21.
For nearly a year, Bakhmut has remained the epicenter of intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces.
Russian artillery fire and airstrikes turned the city with a pre-war population of 72,000 into scorched earth.
The Wagner mercenaries have served as the primary shock troops in Russia's attempts to expand control over the entire Donetsk Oblast, more than half of which it currently occupies.
"Let them (Russians in Bakhmut) feel a constant threat. Either we surround them now or a little later, but that (Wagner) group will be defeated to the end," Eastern Operational Command spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi told national television on May 21.
Russian May 21 attacks in Kherson, Donetsk, and Kharkiv oblasts killed three civilians and injured seven others, local authorities reported.
A residential building was hit in the village of Kozatske in Kherson Oblast. A 55-year-old man was killed, according to Governor Oleksandr Prokudin.
Kozatske sits on the west bank of the Dnipro River, just across from the occupied Nova Kakhovka, used as a base for Russian troops in the region.
Russian forces also shelled settlements across Donetsk Oblast with artillery and guided bombs, killing two civilians and injuring six others, the regional prosecutor's office reported.
A civilian was injured when Russian forces launched an S-300 missile on the village of Tsyrkuny in Kharkiv Oblast, Governor Oleh Syniehubov reported.
In addition, Ukraine's Air Force reported on May 21 that it downed four Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 kamikaze drones that Russia launched against the country overnight.
The Air Force did not reveal more information about the overnight attack, only indicating that Russian forces launched the drones "in the eastern direction."
Russia has resumed its intense waves of missile strikes deep inside Ukraine, targeting cities such as Kyiv, likely to degrade the Ukrainian air defense, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on May 21.
Meanwhile, Ukraine showed an exceptional air defense capability in May, downing Kinzhal hypersonic missiles for the first time.
One of the two Patriot systems suffered minor damage during the May 16 attack, but the Pentagon said it has already been repaired and is "fully back online and operational" by May 18.