Putin concentrating on 'liberating' Donbas region as Western officials say Russian army is 'overstretched'

Officials have suggested it is evidence that Vladimir Putin is being forced to rethink his war aims as his forces remain stalled in the face of unexpectedly fierce resistance

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Russia's defence ministry today announced that they will be concentrating on “liberating” the Donbas region of Ukraine as the "first phase" of their Ukraine invasion was complete.

Officials have suggested it is evidence that Vladimir Putin is being forced to rethink his war aims as his forces remain stalled in the face of unexpectedly fierce resistance from the Ukrainians.

Western officials said it was a recognition that Russian forces were overstretched and may have to “pause” operations around Kyiv and other cities while they focus on the east of the country.

A view shows a destroyed apartment building in the besieged city of Mariupol.
A view shows a destroyed apartment building in the besieged city of Mariupol.

“It is clear that Russia is recognising that it can’t pursue its operations on multiple axes simultaneously,” one official said.

“Therefore it is having to concentrate its force, particularly its logistics supply and its firepower, on a more limited number of approaches.”

The latest intelligence assessment from the UK Ministry of Defence said Ukrainians were continuing to push pack against Russian forces advancing on the capital.

“Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, has allowed Ukraine to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometres (22 miles) east of Kyiv,” it said.

Western officials said that Russians continued to suffer heavy losses, including a brigade commander deliberately killed by his own troops.

Nato has estimated that in four weeks of fighting, between 7,000 and 15,000 Russia troops have been killed in combat – compared the 15,000 they lost in 10 years in Afghanistan.

One Western official said the of the 115 to 120 battalion tactical groups the Russians had at the start of the operation, 20 were no longer “combat effective”.

“After a month of operations to have somewhere in the region of a sixth, maybe even a fifth, of the forces being no longer effective, that is a pretty remarkable set of statistics,” the official said.

Earlier today, Boris Johnson confronted China’s President Xi Jinping in a “frank and candid” discussion over the situation in Ukraine amid concern among Western powers at Beijing’s stance on the conflict, Downing Street said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow.

The contact came after Nato leaders urged China to “abstain” from supporting Russia’s war effort and to refrain from any actions that would help it circumvent sanctions.

In a terse readout following the 50-minute telephone call, a No 10 spokesman said they had discussed “a range of issues of mutual interest” including the situation in Ukraine.

“It was a frank and candid conversation lasting almost an hour. They agreed to speak again soon,” the spokesman said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference following a special meeting of Nato leaders in Brussels, Belgium.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference following a special meeting of Nato leaders in Brussels, Belgium.

In a statement following Thursday’s emergency Nato summit in Brussels, alliance leaders expressed concern about comments by Chinese officials and called on them “to cease amplifying the Kremlin’s false narratives”.

They include unsubstantiated Russian claims – strongly denied by the US – that the United States is financing biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine, while China has resisted calls to condemn the invasion.