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Russia Says First Phase of War is Over

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Service members of pro-Russian troops stand guard at a checkpoint in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 24IMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
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Russian forces have made gains in the south and are now looking to control the east

Russia has said the initial aims of its invasion are largely complete, despite clear indications it has stalled.

The defence ministry in Moscow has now identified the war’s main goal as “liberating” eastern Ukraine.

It also announced that 1,351 servicemen had been killed and 3,825 wounded in Ukraine, in only its second briefing since Russia invaded on 24 February.

The number is far lower than the number of Russian casualties cited either by Ukraine or the US.

A sixth Russian general is among those killed, according to Ukrainian officials, who estimated the number of Russian deaths at more than 16,100.

The true number cannot be verified but on Monday, pro-Kremlin website Komsomolskaya Pravda published a figure of 9,861 military deaths, before it removed the report and said the site had been hacked.

Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said that among the dead was a two-star general, Lt Gen Yakov Ryezantsev, the commander of the 49th Russian Southern District Army, in a Ukrainian attack near Kherson in the south.

 
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The commander is thought to be the sixth Russian general to have been killed in action.

Russian troops first tried to encircle the capital Kyiv. But after bombarding and then seizing several towns to the north-west they were forced back by Ukraine’s military, which is now trying to surround thousands of Russian soldiers.

Map showing Russian advances and Ukrainian counter-attacks

Russia’s army has had greater success on the south coast, seizing towns and cities such as Kherson, and making some gains in the east.

Moscow now claims 93% of the eastern region of Luhansk is under the control of Russian-backed separatists, with 54% of the other eastern region of Donetsk in their hands. More than a third of the entire area was under separatist control before the war began.

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What next for Russia’s war?

Russia’s announcement that it will focus on the “liberation of the Donbas” is likely to mean a more concerted effort to push beyond the “line of contact” that separates Ukrainian government-held territory in the east of the country from the Russian backed separatist “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Western officials believe the announcement implies that Moscow knows that its pre-war strategy has failed.

“Russia is recognising that it can’t pursue its operations on multiple axes simultaneously,” one official said.

As many as 10 new battalion tactical groups are being generated and put into Russia’s operations, especially in the Donbas.

Western officials have been concerned for some time that Russia will attempt to encircle and envelop Ukraine’s best fighting units, which are stationed along the line of contact.

If more Russian firepower, particularly air power, is concentrated in the east, those concerns will rise.

“I hope that’s where the Western supply of arms will make a significant contribution to Ukrainian forces,” one official said.

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War in Ukraine: More coverage

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Russia never spelt out its core aim in invading Ukraine, but as he sent troops across the border President Vladimir Putin declared his ambition to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” Ukraine, characterising the government’s leaders as a neo-Nazi junta killing millions in a genocide of Russian speakers.

None of his claims had any basis in fact but it soon became clear his intention was to seize Kyiv and capture its democratically elected leaders.

He had already indicated before the invasion that he no longer saw the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as part of Ukraine.

Although little more than a third of the entire area was in the hands of Russian-backed separatists before the invasion, he recognised their claim to it in a speech on 22 February.

 
 

Ukraine’s death toll since the war began is now well into the thousands, with 10 million people displaced within Ukraine and beyond its borders.

So far the UN has only confirmed 1,081 civilian deaths in Ukraine but the true number is far higher with 300 deaths reported in the attack on a theatre in Mariupol alone.

More than 3.7 million people have fled abroad, including 2.2 million to Poland. Russia says more than 400,000 have fled there too.

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