Russian troops are pressing their offensive in the eastern Donbas region in an attempt to fully seize Ukraine’s industrial heartland but have made little headway as fierce Ukrainian counterattacks have slowed their efforts, Ukrainian and British officials said Saturday.
Russia continues to fight for full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas that make up the Donbas and seeks to secure “a land route between these territories and the occupied Crimea,” including by wiping out the last pocket of resistance in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s General Staff said.
Ukrainian forces over the past 24 hours repelled eight Russian attacks in the two regions, destroying nine tanks, 18 armored units and 13 vehicles, a tanker and three artillery systems, the General Staff said.
“Units of Russian occupiers are regrouping. Russian enemy continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on military and civilian infrastructure,” the General Staff said on its Facebook page.
"Despite increased activity, Russian forces have made no major gains in the last 24 hours as Ukrainian counter-attacks continue to hinder their efforts," Defence Intelligence (DI) of the UK's ministry of defence says in its latest briefing.
It says Russia's air and naval forces "have not established control in either domain owing to the effectiveness of Ukraine's air and sea defence reducing their ability to make notable progress".
And "despite their stated conquest of Mariupol [in south-eastern Ukraine], heavy fighting continues to take place frustrating Russian attempts to capture the city".
This is "slowing their [Russia's] desired progress" in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, DI adds.
Earlier this week, Russia announced a second stage of its "special military operation" in Ukraine, saying it would now focus on taking control over Donbas.
This came after Russian troops had pulled out from north-eastern Ukraine, after failing to take major cities - including the capital Kyiv - there.
On Friday, Russia revealed its goal to establish "full control" over southern Ukraine as well as the eastern Donbas region in the second phase of its invasion, according to Russian state news agencies. It also aims to establish a land corridor connecting Russia to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014.
Moldova’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration has summoned Russia's ambassador to Moldova, after Russia announced Friday that its military is aiming to control southern Ukraine and access Moldova.
In a statement, the Moldovan ministry said it “took note of the statements of the representative of Russia’s Ministry of Defense” and “expressed deep concern over the statements made by the Russian official.”
State news agency TASS quoted the acting commander of Russia's Central Military District, Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekaev, as saying the aim was to create a land corridor between Ukraine's eastern Donbas region and Crimea. He added that control over Ukraine's south would give Russian forces access to Transnistria, a separatist statelet in Moldova, where a contingent of Russian forces has been stationed since the early 1990s.
Fresh efforts will be made to help civilians leave the devastated city of Mariupol on Saturday through a humanitarian corridor - although multiple previous efforts to operate these have failed in the embattled port city.
The Polish border guard says nearly three million Ukrainian refugees have fled to Poland since the war began.
Earlier, President Zelensky warned that Russia could attack other countries - saying the invasion of Ukraine is only the beginning.
His remarks come after a Russian commander said seizing a swathe of Ukraine would let Moscow access a Russian-backed separatist region in Moldova.