Russian units suffered such heavy losses they have had to flee Ukraine

Russian units have suffered such heavy losses they have had to flee Ukraine, British MoD reveals as Zelensky reacts with scepticism to Putin’s offer to withdraw troops from Kyiv

  • Some Russian units are retreating to the border after suffering huge losses
  • Kremlin said yesterday it would ‘radically reduce’ attacks in Kyiv and Chernihiv
  • Experts say Russia was already losing ground there and the move is to safe face 
  • Chernihiv continued to be battered by Russian strikes throughout the night 

Russian units are suffering such heavy losses in Ukraine that they have been forced to flee home and to neighbouring Belarus.

The Kremlin has yet to capture any major city in its month-long invasion of its neighbour, and yesterday promised to ‘radically’ reduce military operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

But experts said the pledge mostly covered areas where Putin has been losing ground or had been stalled for weeks, and the vow did not even last long with Chernihiv shelled ‘all night long’, its governor said.

Britain’s defence ministry said today: ‘Such activity is placing further pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics and demonstrates the difficulties Russia is having re-organising its units in forward areas within Ukraine.’ 

But Russia is likely to continue to compensate for its reduced ground manoeuvre capability through mass artillery and missile strikes, the ministry added.    

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also scoffed at the idea Russia would be scaling back its barbaric assaults after peace talks were hailed by some yesterday as ‘major progress’, despite the lack of any concrete steps towards a ceasefire.  

Russian units are suffering such heavy losses in Ukraine that they have been forced to flee home and to neighbouring Belarus. Pictured: An abandoned Russian military vehicle in Trostianets

Residents walk past a damaged Russian tank in the northeastern city of Trostianets yesterday amid heavy Kremlin losses

The Kremlin has yet to capture any major city in its month-long invasion of its neighbour

‘We are hearing positive signals from the negotiating table… but positive signals do not silence the explosions of Russian bombs,’ he said in a video address last night. 

Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said the offer to reduce some military operations was a confidence building step for the ongoing negotiations with Ukrainian officials in Istanbul.

‘In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing (an) agreement, a decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions,’ Fomin said.

But he made no mention of other areas that have seen heavy fighting, including around Mariupol in the southeast, Sumy and Kharkiv in the east and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south.

Russia announced yesterday amid renewed peace talks that it would reduce its military presence in and around Kyiv (pictured) and Chernihiv, in what appears to be its first concession since the war began just over one month ago

‘We are hearing positive signals from the negotiating table… but positive signals do not silence the explosions of Russian bombs,’ Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his latest video address last night.

‘Ukrainians are not naive people,’ Zelensky said late on Tuesday.

‘Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion, and over the past eight years of the war in Donbass, that the only thing they can trust is a concrete result.’  

He also brushed off the shift in tactics as nothing more than a forced retreat in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance rather than any step towards peace.

‘The Russian military command allegedly decided ”to reduce hostilities in the directions of Kyiv and Chernihiv” – as if Russian planes just decided to fly less and military vehicles to drive less,’ the President quipped sarcastically.

‘Our full-scale defence is coming to an end. A successful defence… It is the brave and effective actions [of our defenders] who force the enemy to retreat.’  

But the same day that Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said his nation would ‘fundamentally scale back’ its operations to ‘increase trust’, a Russian missile killed eight in Mykolaiv, while the decimated city of Mariupol endured further bombardment (three year old boy wounded in shelling of Mariupol pictured today)

This satellite image distributed by Maxar Technologies shows destroyed apartment buildings and houses east of Mariupol, Ukraine on March 29, 2022

Firefighters scramble to extinguist a huge fire at a fuel base located near Ukraine’s western settlement of Klevan in the Rivne region and supplying fuel to Kyiv for the Ukrainian army, which was hit with high-precision air-launched cruise missiles by Russia, on March 28, 2022

A Russian missile blasted a gaping hole in a government administration building in Mykolaiv yesterday, killing eight and wounding over 30

Zelensky also last night declared that Ukraine is ready to negotiate a ceasefire, but said there would be no compromise over Ukraine’s ‘sovereignty and territory’.

‘There must be real security for us, for our state, for sovereignty, for our people,’ he said.

‘Russian troops must leave the occupied territories – Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be guaranteed. There can be no compromise on sovereignty. And there will not be any.

‘Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion and eight years of war in the Donbass that only a concrete result can be trusted.’ 

Zelensky’s address went on to cover the launch of a new government scheme which aims to provide compensation to individuals and families whose property or land has been damaged amid the war.

Details of the scheme will be released in the coming days, the President said, before stressing to viewers that the state will compensate ‘for every lost metre of real estate’. 

Zelensky also discussed an address he made earlier in the day to the Danish parliament, and said Denmark was interested in helping Ukraine with rebuilding projects in the aftermath of the war.

Meanwhile, Western leaders were warned against dropping their guard after Russia announced its planned scale back of military operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declaring Putin may still look to ‘twist the knife’ and inflict more damage.

Western officials have remained highly suspicious of Russia’s true intentions, arguing that Russian attacks have continued despite the Kremlin’s promise to scale back troops in major urban centres (Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu pictured)

One Western security official speaking on condition of anonymity said: ‘Nothing that we have seen so far has demonstrated to us that President Putin and his colleagues are particularly serious about [scaling back]. It is more of a tactical exercise playing for time.

‘Even if they do do what they say they are going to do that is not in any shape or form a cessation of hostilities… I think we can continue to see continued death and destruction [in the Donbass].’ 

And although there was positivity surrounding yesterday’s peace talks in Istanbul, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had not seen anything to indicate that negotiations were progressing in a ‘constructive way,’ speculating Russia’s pullback is likely an attempt to ‘deceive people and deflect attention’.

‘There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does, and we´re focused on the latter,’ Blinken said yesterday. 

‘And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalisation of Ukraine.’ 

At first glance this is a progress towards peace. But words are cheap… it’s action on the ground that counts, writes Dr NEIL MELVIN

At first glance, the temptation is surely to cheer the news that Russia has said it will ‘drastically reduce’ its combat operations around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

Certainly, that is the view of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been hosting face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul.

Erdogan hailed Russia’s announcement yesterday in the wake of these talks – along with proposals mooted by Ukraine to become a ‘neutral state’ – as ‘the most significant progress’ towards peace since Vladimir Putin launched his horrific invasion five weeks ago.

I have no doubt that the luckless residents of both Ukraine’s besieged capital and of Chernihiv – where tens of thousands are trapped without running water and electricity – will welcome this development. 

President Recep Erdogan, of Turkey, speaks at peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul. He hailed Russia’s announcement has said it will ‘reduce’ combat operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv as ‘the most significant progress’ yet

Sadly, however, I would also firmly caution against pinning too much hope on these announcements. 

Words, after all, are cheap: and it is actions on the ground the matter.

Russia’s apparent climbdown must be seen in the context of Putin’s long-held wider ambitions for Ukraine.

He wants to weaken his democratic neighbour, prevent it from joining Nato and ensure that it can never escape from Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’.

The first step in executing these ambitions was his 2014 annexation of Crimea and the occupation of parts of the Donbas region by Russian separatist groups. 

Emergency personnel work at the site of the regional government headquarters in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Dr Neil Melvin urged ‘caution against pinning too much hope’ on pronouncements of peace

These strategies only succeeded in driving Ukraine further towards the West.

The second step has been unfolding in recent weeks before the world’s horrified eyes: a full-scale invasion, initially intended to seize Kyiv and depose President Zelensky under the absurd guise of ‘de-Nazifying’ Ukraine.

As we know, the Russian despot failed in this planned lightning strike. 

Some 10,000 Russian troops now are dead, several initial gains have been lost, the Russian economy has been crippled by sanctions and its international reputation destroyed.

Putin knows he has badly over-reached – and must now see that the victory he imagined is beyond his grasp.

That is the crucial background to yesterday’s claims of progress in negotiations between the warring countries.

Despite overtures towards peace, Vladimir Putin still wants to win in Ukraine, writes Dr Melvin

Putin knows that if he is to remain in power, he cannot be seen to have failed. 

As such, he may well be using the veil of diplomacy to achieve his goals: buying time so that his forces can regroup and resupply while he plots his next move.

That is not to say that these latest developments are bogus or mere propaganda. 

I have no doubt that Erdogan is sincere when he speaks of his hopes that they may be a prelude to peace.

Yet whatever common ground has been found on the shores of the Bosphorus, this is definitively not a peace agreement – nor even a ceasefire.

Russia may be pulling back from two cities, but in the centre and south of Ukraine, the bloodshed goes on. Putin still wants to win – indeed, believes he must win.

Yes, there is a flickering of hope. But this war has a long way to run. 

Dr Neil Melvin is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute

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