People examine the damage after the shelling of a shopping centre in Kyiv, Ukraine. AP
Gulf Today Report
Russian forces in Ukraine seem to have shifted their focus from a ground offensive aimed at Kyiv, the capital, to instead prioritising what Moscow calls liberation of the contested Donbas region in the country's industrial east, officials said on Friday, suggesting a new phase of the war.
Moscow signalled that it was scaling back its ambitions in Ukraine to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the East as Ukrainian forces went on the offensive to recapture towns outside the capital Kyiv.
It appears too early to know where this will lead. Has President Vladimir Putin scaled back his ambitions in search of a way out of the war? The dug-in defensive positions taken recently by some Russian forces near Kyiv indicate a recognition of the surprisingly stout Ukrainian resistance.
Abandoned uniforms of Ukrainian forces members are seen during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol. Reuters
In an announcement that appeared to indicate more limited goals, the Russian Defence Ministry said a first phase of its operation was mostly complete and it would now focus on the eastern Donbass region, which has pro-Russia separatist enclaves.
On the other hand, Russian forces might be aiming to continue the war with a narrower focus, not necessarily as an endgame but as a way of regrouping from early failures and using the Donbas as a new starting point, one US analyst said.
"The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which ... makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass," said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff's Main Operational Directorate.
Mariana Vishegirskaya stands outside a maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol. AP
Reframing Russia's goals may make it easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a face-saving victory, military analysts said. Moscow had said its goals included demilitarising Ukraine. Western officials dismiss this as a baseless pretext for a war they say is aimed at toppling Ukraine's government.
Putin's forces are under great strain in many parts of the country, and the United States and other countries are accelerating their transfer of arms and supplies to Ukraine.
In recent days, US officials have said they see evidence of Ukrainian defenders going on the offensive in a limited way in some areas. Earlier this week they managed to attack a large Russian ship in port on the Black Sea coast.
A man rides a bicycle as black smoke rises from a fuel storage of the Ukrainian army in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday. AP
Putting a positive face on it all, the deputy chief of the Russian general staff said his forces had largely achieved the "main objectives” of the first phase of what Moscow calls a "special military operation” in Ukraine. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said Russian forces had "considerably reduced” the combat power of the Ukrainian military, and as a result Russian troops could "focus on the main efforts to achieve the main goal, liberation of Donbas.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has again appealed to Russia to negotiate an end to the war, but says Ukraine would not agree to give up any of its territory for the sake of peace.
In his nightly video address to the nation Friday, Zelensky appeared to be responding to Col. Gen Sergei Rudskoi, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, who said Russian forces would now focus on "the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks in Kyiv. File photo
Russian-backed separatists have controlled part of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014, and Russian forces have been battling to seize more of the region from Ukraine, including the besieged city of Mariupol.
Rudskoi’s statement also was a suggestion that Russia may be backing away from trying to take Kyiv and other major cities where its offensive has stalled. Zelensky noted that Russian forces have lost thousands of troops but still haven’t been able to take Kyiv or Kharkiv, the second-largest city.
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