MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia reported heavy fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine on Friday after saying it had repelled repeated attempts by the Ukrainian army this week to smash through the front line and drive a wedge through Russian forces.
Russia's top military brass briefed President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Russia had successfully repelled the attacks which Moscow says are part of an attempted major counter-offensive by Ukraine since Sunday.
Ukraine has refused to comment on the long-awaited counter-offensive and accused Russia of spreading lies about it. The New York Times quoted three senior U.S. officials as saying that the counter-offensive was underway.
A spokesman for Russia's Vostok group of forces said 13 Ukrainian tanks were destroyed in battles in the Zaporizhzhia region and eight in the Donetsk region. It reported artillery, drone and infantry battles.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield accounts from either side.
Russian military bloggers said there were intense battles on the Zaporizhzhia front near the city of Orikhiv.
After seeking tens of billions of dollars of Western weapons to fight Russian forces, the success or failure of the counter-offensive is likely to influence the shape of future Western diplomatic and military support for Ukraine.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)