Russian casualties 'heavy' and worse than Putin feared as Ukraine fights back

26 February 2022, 11:36 | Updated: 26 February 2022, 17:41

Russia's casualties are higher than Putin expected, the MoD says
Russia's casualties are higher than Putin expected, the MoD says. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Will Taylor

Russian casualties in the Ukraine invasion are thought to be "heavy" and worse than Vladimir Putin expected.

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It is unclear how many troops have died at the hands of Ukraine's determined defence but Britain's intelligence services believe they are worse than Moscow thought it would suffer.

The bulk of Russia's forces are still advancing on the capital Kyiv, where street fighting has been reported, but are not yet in the city centre.

The air force is yet to take control of the skies above Ukraine, the UK's Ministry of Defence [MoD] said.

Kyiv's forces, meanwhile, continue to mount a dogged fight across the nation.

The MoD's update, provided by Defence Intelligence, said on Saturday morning: "Russian casualties are likely to be heavy and greater than anticipated or acknowledged by the Kremlin."

Read more: 'We won't lay down our guns': Ukraine vows to defend Kyiv as street fighting breaks out

Read more: Ukraine: Mum forced to give birth in metro bomb shelter as Russians besiege Kyiv

It comes as:

  • The French reportedly intercepted a commercial ship in the Channel to ensure it was not breaching EU sanctions
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on "friends" of Ukraine to help with the defence, saying he will give them weapons
  • Russia faced further isolation on the international stage as China decided against full support for Moscow at the UN, and Poland refused to play its World Cup qualifier against the national team as sports took events away
  • Up to 200 people have been reported dead in Ukraine, including three children, and some 1,000 are wounded
  • Almost 120,000 people fled from Ukraine to Poland and neighbouring according to the UN's refugee agency
  • Belarus's national basketball team was barred from the UK over their country's support for Russia's invasion

The MoD update continued: "Russian forces have continued their advance on Kyiv with the bulk of their forces now 30km from the centre of the city.

"Russia has yet to gain control of the airspace over Ukraine greatly reducing the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force.

"Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to put up staunch resistance across the country."

Ukrainian forces have inflicted higher than expected casualties on Russia, the UK believes
Ukrainian forces have inflicted higher than expected casualties on Russia, the UK believes. Picture: Getty

Putin has now appealed directly to the Ukrainian armed forces to overthrow the democratically elected government, led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The latter has refused to leave Kyiv despite Russia attempting to close in on it, with some observers fearing Putin wants to remove him and replace him with a regime friendlier to Moscow.

"We are successfully holding back the enemy's attack. We know that we are defending our land and the future of our children," Mr Zelenskyy said.

Read more: Putin urges Ukraine military to overthrow 'neo-Nazi' leaders and negotiate with Russia

Read more: 'Our fate is being decided': Zelensky's chilling warning as Russian troops encircle Kyiv

"Kyiv and the key areas are controlled by our army.

"Occupiers wanted to set up their puppets in our capital. They didn't succeed."

He reiterated his support for Ukraine's EU membership and said he will equip anyone who wants to fight for Kyiv.

"Everyone who can defend Ukraine abroad please do it," he said.

On Saturday, authorities in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv extended a curfew until early on Monday amid fighting with Russian troops.

Vitaly Klitschko said on Telegram that the curfew will extend from 5pm until 8am and "all civilians on the street during the curfew will be considered members of the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance groups".

The previous curfew imposed two days ago was from 10pm until 7am.

"Every friend of Ukraine who wants to join Ukraine in defending the country please come over, we will provide you with weapons. Everyone who is defending Ukraine is a hero."

In Kyiv, residents have been told to find shelter as explosions and air raid sirens rang out. On Friday, defenders were told they could use Molotov cocktails to fight off the invaders.

Western powers have defied calls to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Armed forces minister James Heappey told LBC on Saturday: "Some of the slightly kind of bellicose contributions that have been made from colleagues and commentators about a no-fly zone or whatever… seems very straightforward in the context of Iraq or the Balkans or the sort of things that we've been doing over the last 25 years, totally different ballgame when against a peer adversary in a hostile airspace.

"And we have to be very clear that if we were to do a no-fly zone or any other type of direct military action in all over Ukraine, that would bring with it a very high probability of direct contact, ie combat, with Russian aeroplanes or Russian ground troops, which could very quickly lead to an Article Five [Nato collective defence] moment.

"And so effectively, those who are arguing for what seems like a very limited military intervention are effectively asking whether or not we're going to go to war."

My Zelenskyy again called on Russia to be cut off from the SWIFT international financial transactions system.

Germany is in favour of imposing "targeted and functional" restrictions on Russia from the SWIFT global interbank payment system, its foreign and economy ministers said on Saturday.

"We are urgently working on how to limit the collateral damage of decoupling from SWIFT in such a way that it affects the right people. What we need is a targeted and functional restriction of SWIFT," Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a joint statement.

The UK, US and EU, besides pledging further support for Ukraine, announced new measures on Friday, including sanctions against Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

France intercepted a cargo ship in the English channel after the EU imposed new sanctions.

The 127-metre long commercial ship Baltic Leader, thought to be carrying cars, was stopped by the French Navy and officials are investigating its cargo. The crew is cooperating.

In Ukraine, fighting is also reported in the cities of Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odessa. Ukraine believes 198 people, including three children, have been killed so far in the invasion.

Ukraine says it is ready to negotiate an end to hostilities while Vladimir Putin is reportedly saying he his willing to open talks.

A UN resolution calling on Russia to withdraw and condemning the invasion failed after Russia used its veto power at the Security Council.

Notably, however, China abstained, instead of throwing its full support behind Russia.

On Saturday afternoon, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she had cancelled the visas of Belarus's men's basketball team, which was due to play in Newcastle on Sunday.