Kremlin hints at retreat as Russian commander 'killed by own troops'

26 March 2022, 00:25 | Updated: 26 March 2022, 00:35

Russian forces have suffered heavier casualties than they expected as a result of Ukrainian resistance
Russian forces have suffered heavier casualties than they expected as a result of Ukrainian resistance. Picture: Getty

By Daisy Stephens

Russia has given its strongest indicator yet that it will scale back its invasion of Ukraine after weeks of minimal progress in the country.

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The Russian defence ministry said that, having completed the "first phase" of operations, troops would now "focus our core efforts" on the Donbas region, part-held by Russian-backed separatists.

Western officials said it could mean a "pause" in operations around Kyiv and elsewhere as the Russians move resources into the east of the county, although they remain cautious about the apparent switch in strategy.

The claim that Russia has achieved its main objectives has been contested, as Kyiv - a key target - remains under Ukrainian control.

Instead officials believe the change in priorities is the result of Russian forces making little to no progress in recent days, with UK intelligence saying Ukraine had reclaimed control of several areas near the capital.

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On Friday Professor Gwythian Prins, former adviser to Nato and a member of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategy Advisory Panel up to 2014, told LBC Russia had "run out of energy" and was suffering losses on a scale that in previous conflicts had taken them almost a decade.

"We are at the culmination point, the high-tide moment for Russians," he said.

"They have run out of energy.

"They have lost more people and almost as much equipment in 24 days than they lost in Afghanistan in 9 years and 9 months."

Russia says it will focus on the Donbas Region
Russia says it will focus on the Donbas Region. Picture: Alamy

In an intelligence update early on Friday morning, the UK Ministry of Defence said: "Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian Forces falling back on overextended supply lines, has allowed Ukraine to re-occupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometres east of Kyiv.

"Ukrainian Forces are likely to continue to attempt to push Russian Forces back along the north-western axis from Kyiv towards Hostomel Airfield.

"In the south of Ukraine Russian Forces are still attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa with their progress being slowed by logistic issues and Ukrainian resistance."

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It comes after Western officials said a Russian brigade commander was killed by his own troops after they became angry at the scale of the casualties they were taking.

Colonel Medvechek, commanding the Russian 37th Motor Rifle Brigade, is believed to have been deliberately run down.

"The brigade commander was killed by his own troops, we believe, as a consequence of the scale of losses that have been taken by his brigade," one official said.

"We believe that he was run over by his own troops."

The same official said the lieutenant general commanding the Russian 49th Combined Arms Army has also died in the fighting.

He is the seventh Russian general officer to be killed in combat since the invasion began a month ago - more than a third of those deployed at the start of the operation.

The latest losses underline the heavy casualties suffered by the Russians after encountering far stiffer resistance than they expected from Ukrainian forces.

Nato has estimated that in four weeks of fighting between 7,000 and 15,000 Russia troops have been killed in combat - compared with the 15,000 they lost in 10 years in Afghanistan.

One Western official said that of the 115 to 120 battalion tactical groups the Russians had at the start of the operation, 20 were no longer "combat effective".

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"We have seen really high losses in some motor rifle regiments, but particularly in the airborne forces," the official said.

"We have seen some of those units being pulled back into Russia to get some maintenance and care of their vehicles.

"Some of those units have just lost enormous numbers of people, so what we have seen is the cannibalising of battalion tactical groups, joining three together to create one, or to have battalion tactical groups withdrawn from the fight.

"After a month of operations to have somewhere in the region of a sixth, maybe even a fifth, of the forces being no longer effective, that is a pretty remarkable set of statistics."