Vladimir Putin’s troops have been “whacked” in the Donbas after he rushed them in before many of them had recovered from previous battles, Britain said on Tuesday.
The UK’s armed forces minister James Heappey stressed the Russian president’s troops had suffered heavy losses, with hundreds reported killed in one river crossing alone.
Mr Putin has refocussed his military campaign on the Donbas region in the east of the country after his lightning invasion plan, which included seizing Kyiv within days, failed.
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Thousands of Russian soldiers have been poured into the region as he seeks some form of victory in the war that he launched on February 24.
But Mr Heappey said: “The Russians rushed themselves into a renewed offensive in the Donbas.
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“Units that were refurbishing or supposed to be refurbishing on their way around from Kyiv to come into the east of the country had really no time to refurbish at all.
“So, they came back in when they were still very battle-weary from the first days of the war and they got whacked.”
He stressed that the Russian president’s troops had been ordered to advance when the ground was muddy.
“So, all of the advantages of mass were lost,” he added.
He also highlighted a Russian attempt to cross the River Donets in the east of the country where hundreds of Mr Putin’s troops are reported to have been killed.
“The Russians tried to cross at exactly the same point in daylight four times….that is nuts,” he explained.
He believes Mr Putin will come under increasing pressure as news of the failing campaign filters back.
“There are people in Moscow who know how badly the war is being managed,” he emphasised.
“There is a growing realisation that tens of thousands of Russians soliders are losing their lives in an operation that is defined by hubris and political interference.”
Mr Putin is allegedly now taking part himself in the operational military planning.
Britain’s most recent estimate, of a few weeks ago, is that around 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine in the conflict which is feared to have left tens of thousands of civilians dead, as well as thousands of Ukrainian troops.
Mr Heappey also told of his fears that Ukrainian forces, who have held out in the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in besieged Mariupol for weeks may be treated as “terrorists” by Russia and executed in another appalling war crime.
Hundreds of fighters held out for months in the abandoned steel plant under relentless bombardment in the last bastion of resistance in the devastated city.
On Monday when more than 260 Ukrainian fighters – some of them seriously wounded and taken out on stretchers – left the ruined plant to turn themselves in to the Russians under a deal hammered out by both sides.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar expressed hope the fighters would be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war.
But Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, said without evidence that there were “war criminals” among the defenders and that they should not be exchanged but tried.
The soldiers who left the plant were given pat-down searches, loaded onto buses accompanied by Russian military vehicles, and taken to two towns controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. More than 50 of the fighters were seriously wounded, according to both sides.
The operation to abandon the steel plant signalled the beginning of the end of a near three-month siege that turned Mariupol into a worldwide symbol of both defiance and suffering.
The Russian bombardment killed over 20,000 civilians, according to the Ukrainian side, and left the remaining inhabitants – perhaps one-quarter of the southern port city’s prewar population of 430,000 – with little food, water, heat or medicine.
Gaining full control of Mariupol would give Russia an unbroken land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and deprive Ukraine of a vital port. It could also free up Russian forces to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern industrial heartland that the Kremlin is bent on capturing.
And it would give Russia a victory after repeated setbacks on the battlefield and the diplomatic front, beginning with the abortive attempt to storm Kyiv, the capital.
Ukraine said on Monday troops defending the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, had repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia.
While the focus of the fighting has shifted eastward in the Donbas, strikes are still hitting other areas of the country.
The western city of Lviv was rocked by loud explosions early Tuesday. Witnesses counted at least eight blasts. The sky west of the city, which was under an overnight curfew, was lit up by an orange glow.
The governor of the Lviv region, Maksym Kozytskyy, said Russian strikes targeted railroad and military facilities around Yavoriv, west of the city.
The Yavoriv area, which is just a short drive from the Polish border, has been the target of previous Russian strikes apparently aimed at slowing the flow of weapons and other supplies coming from Western countries.
Photo Credit: Getty