Efforts can now be focused on the “liberation of the Donbass,” a senior defense official said.
Russia’s armed forces have completed the “first stage” of their mission in Ukraine, according to a top military commander, who claimed Kiev’s combat potential has been severely diminished following one month of fighting.
Speaking during a Friday press briefing, Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy stated that Moscow had reached its objectives for the first leg of its military operation in Ukraine, adding that this would allow it to give its full attention to the Donbass region.
“In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed,” said Rudskoy, who serves as chief of the Russian military’s Main Operational Directorate. “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, which allows… us to focus our efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbass.”
The official noted that Ukrainian forces have prepared a “well-fortified defense zone” in the breakaway region over a period of eight years. He said Russian troops are isolating key rail stations to cut off military supplies such as fuel and ammunition as well as troops replenishment, which is almost completely interrupted.
In a rare update on combat losses, Rudskoy also announced that 1,351 Russian servicemen have died in the hostilities, with another 3,825 injured. Ukraine, meanwhile, claims to have killed some 16,000 Russian troops and destroyed hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles and artillery guns. Though Kiev has not offered casualty estimates for its own soldiers since mid-March – when it said 1,300 had died – the colonel general cited a much larger figure of 30,000 for those both killed and wounded.
Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to the battlefield since Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February. Some 23,000 volunteers from 37 nations had expressed interest in fighting, Rudskoy said. But Donbass officials refused those offers, he added. Ukrainian officials have offered a similar estimate for its own newly created foreign legion, with Ukrainian Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov putting the number at more than 20,000.
Russia’s military operation followed a seven-year standoff over Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Moscow’s later recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to regularize the status of the two regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO. Though Kiev has indicated some willingness to remain outside the US-led military bloc, it insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.