KYIV, March 7 (AFP) - The Russian army vowed on Tuesday (Mar 7) to capture the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, a move that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said would give Moscow an "open road" for offensives deeper into his country.

The intense fighting in the east raged on as United Nations chief Antonio Guterres headed to Kyiv for talks.

The battle for Bakhmut - a salt-mining town with a pre-war population of 80,000 - has been the longest and bloodiest in Russia's more than year-long invasion that has devastated swathes of Ukraine and displaced millions.

Russia has appeared intent to capture it at all costs.

"Capturing (Bakhmut) will allow for further offensive operations deep into the defence lines of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told military officials during a televised meeting on Tuesday.

In Kyiv, Zelenskyy said that the army was intent on defending Bakhmut despite a rumoured retreat under pressure from Russian forces, who have sought to capture the city for months.

Zelenskyy said that Russia would have an "open road" into eastern Ukraine if it captures the besieged city of Bakhmut, CNN reported on Tuesday.

"We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction," Zelenskyy told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview due to air in the United States on Wednesday.

Russia's mercenary group Wagner has spearheaded the attack on Bakhmut, and its head Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is locked in a rift with Russia's military leadership, appeared to mock Shoigu saying he had "not seen him" near the battlefield.