By MARIA GRAZIA MURRU and OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI, Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Foreign analysts say Russia may temporarily ease its offensive in Ukraine as the Russian military attempts to muster its forces for a new assault.
On Wednesday, Russian forces made no claimed or assessed territorial gains in Ukraine “for the first time in 133 days of warfare”, according to the Institute for the Study of War. The Washington-based think tank suggested that Moscow could take an “operational pause” that does not involve “the complete cessation of active hostilities”.
“Russian forces are likely to confine themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to create conditions for larger offensive operations and rebuild the combat power necessary to attempt these more ambitious undertakings,” the statement said. institute.
A statement Thursday from the Russian Defense Ministry appears to confirm this assessment. He said Russian military units involved in the fighting in Ukraine had had time to rest.
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“Units that carried out combat missions during the special military operation are taking steps to regain their combat capabilities. Servicemen have the opportunity to rest, receive letters and parcels from home,” reads the statement, quoted by the Russian news agency Tass.
Shelling continued in eastern Ukraine, where at least nine civilians were killed and six injured in 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukraine’s presidential office said in its Thursday morning update that towns and villages in seven Ukrainian regions had been shelled over the past day. Most civilian deaths have occurred in Donetsk province, where fighting continues. Seven civilians were killed there, including a child, the presidential office said.
Ten towns and villages were shelled in Donetsk and 35 buildings were destroyed, including a school, vocational college and hospital, officials said.
Donetsk is part of Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area where the most experienced Ukrainian soldiers are concentrated. Pro-Russian separatists fought Ukrainian forces and controlled much of Donbass for eight years. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two self-declared republics there just before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Putin claimed victory in Lugansk, the other province that makes up Donbass, on Monday after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the last city they controlled there. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai on Wednesday denied that the Russians had completely captured the province.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, a boarding school was hit, but no one was injured. The Kharkiv region, located along the border with Russia, is bombarded daily and two civilians have been killed there in the past 24 hours.
Ukraine’s military said on Thursday that Russian forces had also carried out shelling and helicopter strikes in the northeastern Sumy region.
Even as the fighting continued, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it believed the Russian military was “rebuilding” its forces. An intelligence ministry assessment released on Thursday said heavy shelling along the frontline in Donetsk is likely intended to secure earlier Russian gains.
The British ministry noted a new law being considered by the Russian parliament to give the government special economic powers amid the war.
The law would allow Russia “to avoid recognizing that it is engaged in a war or its inability to defeat the outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian army”, the ministry said.
As fighting continued in the east, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Kyiv on Thursday over what it said was the theft of Ukrainian grain from a Russian ship.
The Russian ship Zhibek Zholy has been allowed to leave Turkey’s Black Sea coast after Turkish authorities briefly detained it at the request of Ukraine. Ukraine summoned the ambassador to complain about the “unacceptable situation”.
Turkey, with its Bosphorus Strait, is a key transit route for shipping from the Black Sea. Ukraine has sought to pressure Ankara to halt Russian shipments of its grain, a vital source of income.
Contributing to this story are Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Ukraine and Cara Anna in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian War at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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