Conflict ‘about to enter new phase’, UK Ministry of Defence says as war approaches six month point
Russian forces are massing in the south of Ukraine in what the UK Ministry of Defence warned could be preparation for a fresh assault.
The MoD said Vladimir Putin’s troops were “almost certainly” gathering either in anticipation of a Ukrainian counter-offensive or for a possible new advance in the country, which has been partially occupied since the war was launched in February.
The conflict “is about to enter a new phase”, the MoD said, in which the fighting would shift west and south to a roughly 350-kilometre front line that extends from near the city of Zaporizhzhia to Russian-occupied Kherson.
Long convoys of Russian military trucks, tanks and weapons have been observed moving in a southwesterly direction away from the Donbas region, which has been the focus of Russia’s recent war efforts.
The MoD said military equipment was “reported to be moving from Russian-occupied Melitopol, Berdiansk, Mariupol and from mainland Russia via the Kerch Bridge into Crimea”, while battalion tactical groups, which comprise between 800 and 1,000 troops, “have been deployed to Crimea and would almost certainly be used to support Russian troops in the Kherson region”.
Ukrainian forces are said to be focusing their targeting on bridges, ammunition depots and rail links in the country’s southern regions in an effort to limit Russia’s ability to resupply.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that over the past week its forces had “achieved powerful results” in destroying Russia’s logistics supplies.
“Every strike on the enemy’s ammunition depots, on their command posts and on accumulations of Russian equipment saves the lives of all of us, the lives of Ukrainian military and civilians,” he said in a late-night video address.
In Zaporizhzhia, Russia was again accused of shelling the nuclear power plant over the weekend, and Ukraine’s state nuclear power firm said Russian forces damaged three radiation sensors at the facility.
“Russian nuclear terror requires a stronger response from the international community – sanctions on the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel,” Mr Zelensky wrote on Twitter.
Elsewhere, four ships carrying Ukrainian grain have sailed from Black Sea ports as part of a deal to unblock the country’s sea exports.
Pope Francis welcomed the move, saying the “step shows that it is possible to conduct dialogue to reach concrete results, which help everyone”.
Also on Sunday, Amnesty International apologised for “distress and anger” caused by a report accusing Ukraine of endangering civilians by placing Ukrainian troops in residential areas.
Mr Zelensky has accused the organisation of trying to shift responsibility from Russian aggression, while Amnesty’s Ukraine head, Oksana Pokalchuk, quit, saying the report was a propaganda gift for Moscow.