Vladimir Putin has embarked on a deadly war of attrition as Russia’s advance in Ukraine continues to stall in the face of fierce resistance, Britain’s defense intelligence chief has warned.
Lt. Gen. Sir Jim Hockenhull said the Kremlin has been forced to change tactics, resorting to “reckless and indiscriminate” use of firepower that will inevitably lead to more civilian casualties.
The Russians have “huge” stockpiles of artillery ammunition and could keep up their bombardment for weeks in a bid to force Ukraine into submission, Western officials say.
The warning came as Putin, Russia’s president, made a rare public appearance to address a mass flag rally at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium to mark the eighth anniversary of his country’s annexation of Crimea.
He praised the efforts of the Russian forces, stating: “Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other.”
However, General Hockenhull said that after more than three weeks of campaigning, it is clear that the Kremlin has not yet achieved any of its initial goals.
“He has been shocked by the scale and ferocity of the Ukrainian resistance and has been beset by problems of his own making,” he told reporters.
“Russian operations have changed. Russia is now following a strategy of attrition. This will involve reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower.
“This will result in increased civilian casualties, the disruption of Ukrainian infrastructure and the intensification of the humanitarian crisis.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Friday that she fears the Russia-Ukraine peace talks are being used as a “smokescreen” by the Kremlin to allow forces to regroup.
In an interview with The Times, Ms. Truss said: “If a country is serious about negotiations, it doesn’t indiscriminately bomb civilians on that day.”
The minister said she was “very skeptical” about the negotiations, adding: “What we have seen is an attempt to create a space for the Russians to regroup.”
I am afraid that the negotiation is another attempt to create a distraction and create a smoke screen.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
She said: “We do not see any serious withdrawal of Russian troops or any serious proposal on the table.”
Mrs Truss told The Times that “the Russians have lied and lied and lied. I am afraid that the negotiation is another attempt to create a distraction and create a smokescreen.”
At the same time, Putin is tightening his control over the Russian media in a bid to hide the heavy losses his forces have suffered in the battle, General Hockenhull said.
“The Kremlin is trying to control the narrative, hide operational problems and hide the high number of Russian casualties from the Russian people,” he said.
So far, 7,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the fighting, including four major generals and several other senior officers, US sources estimate.
In other developments:
– President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours via video call as the United States seeks to dissuade Beijing from providing military support to Russia.
– Ofcom revoked the Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT’s UK license with immediate effect after the regulator said it was “unsuitable”.
– More than 150,000 people have registered interest in the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme to house Ukrainian refugees.
Russian forces have continued to pummel the outskirts of the capital kyiv, while the cities of Kharkiv, Sumy and Mariupol, where more than 2,500 civilians are reported to have died, remain under siege.
Another missile attack was earlier reported on an aircraft maintenance plant on the outskirts of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, which has so far largely escaped fighting.
Western officials worry that as Russia depletes its stock of precision weapons, it will increasingly resort to “dumb” bombs, causing even more civilian casualties.
“There is a huge amount of artillery ammunition held by Russian forces. It can be a logistical challenge for them to get everything in place,” an official said.
“But if they can move those supplies forward, then they could mount that artillery barrage over a very, very considerable period of time. Those bombardments could be very intense.”
UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the indiscriminate bombing of cities was “most likely” a war crime and the Russian president bore ultimate “blame” for the atrocities.
He warned, however, that everyone in the military chain of command could be held responsible for the war crimes in which they were involved.
“The evidence that is being gathered strongly points to war crimes being committed in Ukraine,” he told Sky News.
“The guilt for war crimes lies squarely with the head of the Russian government, the man who decided to do all of this in the first place,” he said.
“It is not just Putin who ends up being held accountable for war crimes as evidence is gathered and people are held accountable.
“They are also involved in prosecuting war crimes in Ukraine. This is a stain on the Russian nation.”