As fighting rages on in eastern Ukraine, Russian commanders are under increasing pressure to make gains on the battlefield even if it means taking risks that can backfire, a military intelligence assessment said Friday.
The assessment cited widely seen videos of Russian armored vehicles destroyed during a river crossing attempt, which as published online by the Ukrainian army. Images cannot be independently verified.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Russian forces aimed a new punitive barrage in the north, east and south of the country, including the bombing of a last Ukrainian redoubt in the destroyed southern port of Mariupol.
Repeated attempts by the Kiev government to broker a deal to evacuate wounded soldiers from a vast steel plant – the last piece of territory in the city held by Ukrainian forces – has so far failed.
At the same time, Ukraine launched what was described as the first war crimes prosecution resulting from the nearly 3-month invasion. A 21-year-old Russian tank commander appeared in court Friday on charges of shooting an unarmed civilian who was riding a bicycle in a northeastern Ukrainian village.
Seeking to intensify Western pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said the bloc would soon revisit the idea of a Russian oil embargo. Hungary has so far resisted such a step, but Borrell expressed the belief that those reservations could be exceeded.
“We need this agreement and we will have it,” he said on Friday as the Group of Seven Foreign Ministers of the rich democracies met in Germany.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops managed to repel Russian troops from those of the country second largest city, KharkivUkrainian and Western military officials say more than a month after Russia halted an attempt to seize the capital, Kiev.
But Russian forces have slowly taken ground elsewhere in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, and the massive use of artillery against populated areas is taking a terrible civilian toll.
While front lines have been fluid in some areas, with some villages changing hands repeatedly, clashes along a 300-mile battle front have been punctuated by some decisive losses and gains. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Thursday that more than a dozen Russian armored vehicles were destroyed while attempting to cross the Seversky Donets River near the village of Bilohorivka in Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbas region, the main battlefield of war.
Western analysis of the event placed it in the context of other setbacks suffered by Russian forces during the war, including the initial failed attempt to capture Kiev, stating that as a result Moscow’s military leaders were likely under increasing constraint. .
“Conducting river crossings in a disputed environment is a highly risky maneuver and speaks of the pressure Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” says the British military assessment daily.
Based on images from the event, Russia has lost “significant armored maneuvering elements” of at least one battalion tactical group, the intelligence report said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a nightly video speech, declared that “Russia’s strategic defeat is already obvious to everyone in the world”. He spoke hours after Finnish leaders expressed support Thursday for joining the NATO alliance, marking a fundamental change in the European security architecture.
The Kremlin responded to the Finnish announcement, and a similar one deemed likely soon by Sweden, with threats of unspecified “military technical” measures. Both the White House and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Finnish and Swedish applications for membership would be welcomed.
The Russian retreat from areas near the Ukrainian capital followed for weeks as its forces occupied the suburbs and satellite cities north and west of Kiev. In their wake, Russian forces have left a mine of evidence of the atrocities against Ukrainian civilians, which Moscow denies occurred.
Ukraine says it is investigating thousands of alleged war crimes, but the trial of Sergeant Vadim Shyshimarin, which opened in a Kiev courtroom on Friday, is the first such proceeding since the war began. The Russian sergeant, who was captured by Ukrainian forces, faces life imprisonment for shooting an unarmed 62-year-old civilian in the northern village of Chupakhiva.
With Western nations continuing to seek ways to dissuade Putin from pursuing the war, the G-7 foreign ministers have held their seventh such meeting since the February 24 invasion. At the meeting in Germany, British Foreign Minister Liz Truss urged allies to keep economic sanctions in place until Russian troops leave Ukraine, British Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Truss told the rally that Putin was “humiliating himself on the world stage” in Ukraine, the BBC said.