Russia likely to step up attacks on civilians in Ukraine, Ministry of Defence warns

19 March 2022, 07:46 | Updated: 19 March 2022, 10:51

The MoD believes Russia will step up its attacks on civilian targets
The MoD believes Russia will step up its attacks on civilian targets. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Russia has been forced to change its operational approach in Ukraine to a "strategy of attrition," the Ministry of Defence has said.

The MoD said in its latest update that on the ground, the shift in Russia's strategy will mean an increase in "the indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increased civilian casualties, and destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure."

They also said it was likely to intensify the humanitarian crisis.

"Putin has reinforced his control over Russian domestic media. The Kremlin is attempting to control the narrative, detract from operational problems and obscure high Russian casualty numbers from the Russian people."

Britain's chief of defence intelligence also said Putin is now fighting a "war of attrition", after initial expectations of a quick conflict were dashed.

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Lieutenant General Sir Jim Hockenhull said the Kremlin has been forced to switch tactics, turning to the "reckless and indiscriminate" use of firepower which will inevitably lead to more civilian casualties.

Liz Truss said that if Moscow was serious about peace talks being held with Ukraine, they would not be keeping up attacks on civilians.

She told The Times: "If a country is serious about negotiations, it doesn't indiscriminately bomb civilians that day."

The minister told newspaper "the Russians have lied and lied and lied. I fear the negotiation is yet another attempt to create a diversion and create a smokescreen".

But she said: "Of course, Ukraine as a sovereign nation is fully entitled to undertake any negotiation process it sees fit."

Western officials warned that the Russians have "enormous" stocks of artillery ammunition meaning they could maintain their bombardment for weeks.

However, Gen Hockenhull said that, more than three weeks into the campaign, it is clear the Kremlin has still not achieved any of its initial objectives.

"It has been surprised by the scale and ferocity of Ukrainian resistance and has been bedevilled by problems of its own making," he told journalists.

"Russian operations have changed. Russia is now pursuing a strategy of attrition. This will involve the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower.

"This will result in increased civilian casualties, disruption of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis."

Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the PM was being hailed a hero in Ukraine.

Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum in Blackpool, Mr Javid said the support offered by the UK had "prompted a British Ukrainian man, who stopped me in my constituency almost exactly this time last week, and he said to me 'the next time you see Boris you tell him, in Ukraine he's a hero'."

Former prime minister David Cameron announced on Friday he was driving a "small lorry" to the Polish border with Ukraine with supplies.

It comes as Mr Putin, Russia's President, made a rare public appearance to address a mass flag-waving rally at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium to mark the eighth anniversary of his country's annexation of Crimea.

He praised the efforts of Russia's forces, declaring: "Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other."

As many as 7,000 Russian troops have died so far in the fighting, including four major generals and a number of other senior officers, American sources estimate.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence said Russia had been forced to shift to a "strategy of attrition".