(breitbart) – Russian forces are continuing to apply pressure in the Donbas following their switch in focus from the Kyiv (Kiev) region to Ukraine’s east and south, but British defence officials say counter-attacks are frustrating their progress.
“Despite increased activity, Russian forces have made no major gains in the last 24 hours as Ukrainian counter-attacks continue to hinder their efforts,” the NATO member’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) asserted in a social media post on Saturday.
“Russian air and maritime forces have not established control in either domain owing to the effectiveness of Ukraine’s air and sea defence reducing their ability to make notable progress,” they continued, adding: “Despite [the Russian government’s] stated conquest of Mariupol, heavy fighting continues to take place frustrating Russian attempts to capture the city thus further slowing their desired progress in the Donbas.”
The Kremlin declared the long-besieged port city had finally been “liberated” earlier this week, but in fact a significant number of Ukrainian defenders remain dug in at its Azovstal steelworks — and Russian leader Vladimir Putin has ordered his defence minister to seal them off rather than engage and defeat them, fearing this would involve significant losses.
“Every day they drop several bombs on Azovstal,” said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city’s mayor, of the Russians’ current strategy there, in comments quoted by the Associated Press.
“Fighting, shelling, bombing do not stop,” he added.
The reported failure to make significant progress in the Donbas and to really secure a final victory in Mariupol — a key objective if Russia is to create a landbridge been Russian and Russian separatist territory and the Russian-annexed Crimea — follows a general retreat from the Kyiv region.
While Moscow claims that Russian forces which struck south for the Ukrainian capital from Belarus had achieved their objectives, it is difficult to interpret the all but total withdrawal from the territory it had captured there, leaving many fallen soldiers and destroyed vehicles in their wake, as anything but a strategic failure, especially as Ukrainian and Western officials now claim to have uncovered evidence of war crimes in formerly occupied areas.
The switch in focus to the east initially appeared to have yielded good results, with the Russians reportedly capturing dozens of villages on Thursday — although Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky insisted these gains were “temporary”.
In a Saturday morning briefing, the Russian defence ministry claimed it had successfully executed a number of “high-precision” strikes on Ukrainian forces, and that “up to two companies of nationalists were eliminated” as a result — although such claims by either side are difficult if not impossible to verify.