Russia appears to be scaling back its ambitions in Ukraine to focus on consolidating control of eastern areas – however the UK has warned that for now the bombardment of cities is likely to continue.
Russia’s defence ministry claimed it would now concentrate on the “liberation” of the Donbas region.
“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate.
“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 Donbas.”
Moscow claimed Russian-backed separatists – who have been in the region for years – are controlling 93% of Luhansk and 54% of Donetsk – the areas that make up Donbas.
Russia has previously pointed to far bigger ambitions but stiff resistance from Ukraine forces, logistical problems and reported low morale may have taken their toll.
Deborah Haynes, security and defence editor
While President Putin says that what Russia calls the special military operation is going to plan the reality does seem to be anything but.
Russian commanders must know the reality on the ground.
Military analysts say that if bolstering the breakaway Donbas region really was the ultimate goal Moscow did not need to deploy forces all across the country.
But information in this war is as much of a weapon as bombs and bullets, so while that is what is being said today, we have to wait and see what happens next on the ground.
A US official, speaking anonymously, said their information indicated Russia had “certainly madea higher priority on their list”, and was becoming more aggressive there.
However, it appears to contradict a statement from Russia’s defence ministry that said the invasion would continue until it “reaches the targets set by Vladimir Putin”.
The UK Ministry of Defence’s latest update on Saturday said the long-range onslaught of Ukraine cities shows no sign of letting up – with more deaths and injuries inevitable.
“Russia continues to besiege a number of major Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol,” it tweeted.
“Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralise defending forces.
“It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties.”
- Rowling hits back at Putin after he drags her into row over ‘cancelling Russian culture’
- Sheeran sends support to Ukrainian band who ask to join charity concert
- FBI names Russian hackers wanted for targeting nuclear energy plants
- Eyewitness: No way out for 150,000 people trapped in city of ‘hell’ Chernihiv
President Zelenskyy struck an upbeat note on the military front in his latest message and said “powerful blows” and “significant losses” had been dealt to the Russians over the last week.
It comes as the US said Russian forces were no longer in full control of Kherson, the first city to fall after the invasion began.
It’s another apparent boost for Ukraine, which also claimed to have destroyed a Russian landing ship near the coastal city of Berdyansk this week.
‘300 killed in theatre attack’
Despite the counterattacks, the death toll mounts – and the council in the southern city of Mariupol said on Friday that it believed about 300 people had died in the bombing of a theatre last week.
It would make it the worst single loss of life in the month-long war.
“Children” was written in large letters outside the theatre – intended to be seen from above – in the hope of protecting the estimated 1,300 sheltering inside, but still the building was attacked.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
The governor of Donetsk has said Ukrainian forces still control Mariupol – despite it being relentlessly attacked for weeks.
Pavlo Kyrylenko said about 65,000 people had fled in private vehicles or on foot, but that attempts to facilitate mass evacuations had mostly failed.
According to Ukraine’s prosecutor general office, at least 136 children have died since the Russian invasion a month ago.
Chernihiv ‘surrounded by the enemy’
The Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, in the north of the country, has been cut off by Russian forces, its regional governor said on Friday.
“The city has been conditionally, operationally surrounded by the enemy,” Viacheslav Chaus said, adding that it was being bombarded by artillery and warplanes.
Ukraine wants to arrange a humanitarian corridor for Chernihiv on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
In the eastern city of Kharkiv, four people were killed on Friday when Russian shelling hit a clinic providing humanitarian aid, regional police said.
There is also increasing evidence of mass graves in Mariupol – including one that appears to hold 200 bodies – the head of the UN’s human rights team in Ukraine has said.
Some of the evidence is from satellite images, Matilda Bogner told journalists.
Civilian deaths in the country have exceeded 1,035, she added, while the UN team is investigating what appear to be indiscriminate attacks by both sides.
Around 3.7 million people have now fled Ukraine since the conflict began, the UN’s refugee agency has said.
The US, meanwhile, is to supply more liquid natural gas to the European Union to help it reduce its reliance on Russia sources.
President Joe Biden said Vladimir Putin uses energy to “coerce and manipulate his neighbours” and takes the profits to “drive his war machine”.
Cutting Europe’s reliance on Russian energy was not only the “right thing to do from a moral standpoint” but “it’s going to put us on a stronger strategic footing”, Mr Biden said.
The president is currently in Europe and has met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, which hosted a summit of NATO and G7 leaders on Thursday.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
Mr Biden arrived in Poland on Friday afternoon – home to more than two million Ukrainian refugees – after warning that NATO would respond “in kind” if Russia was to use chemical weapons.
He met US troops stationed near the border with Ukraine and on Saturday will hold bilateral talks with Poland’s leader, Andrzej Duda.