ladimir Putin has unleashed “reckless and indiscriminate” firepower on Ukraine after his initial invasion plan failed “bedevilled” with problems of the Kremlin’s own making, Britain’s military intelligence chief said on Friday.
Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull, Chief of Defence Intelligence, stressed that the Russian president’s strategy would now lead to more civilian casualties, with thousands already believed to have been killed.
He also accused Mr Putin of seeking to hide the scale of fatalities among his troops from the Russian people, with some reports that more than 7,000 had already died.
Lt Gen Hockenhull said: “The Kremlin has so far failed to achieve its original objectives.
“It has been surprised by the scale and ferocity of Ukrainian resistance and has been bedevilled with problems of its own making.”
With Mr Putin having failed with his suspected plan to seize Kyiv within days, Russian troops have switched to heavy bombardment of cities including Mariupol, Kharhiv and Sumy.
“Russian operations have changed,” explained the defence chief.
“Russia is now pursuing a strategy of attrition.
“This will involve the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower.
“This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis.”
Mr Putin’s plan is believed to have floundered due to him expecting his troops to have been welcomed in Ukraine as liberators, poor logistical operations, a failure to destroy Ukraine’s military air capacity, and the strong Ukrainian resistance.
Now, he is facing growing disquiet in Russia, even though polling suggests the majority of Russians are still saying they support what the Russian president calls a “special military operation”.
Thousands of Russians have already been arrested for protesting against the war, with media outlets not following the Kremlin line on the war being closed down.
Lt Gen Hockenhull added: “Putin has reinforced his control over Russian domestic media.
“The Kremlin is attempting to control the narrrative, hide operational problems and obscure high Russian casualty numbers from the Russian people.”
He spoke after US and UK defence chiefs revealed earlier on Friday Putin’s troops are “frozen” in their positions as his invasion has stalled and he resorts to inflicting “unimaginable suffering” on civilians by bombarding Ukrainian towns and cities.
Britain’s armed forces minister James Heappey said Russian troops were “making no real progress”, having failed to encircle Kyiv or to capture any major city in Ukraine.
President Putin also appeared to be facing growing disquiet in Russia after his invasion plan, which is thought to have envisaged seizing Kyiv within days, has gone so spectacularly wrong with thousands of his troops being killed.
Attempted advances, with poorly-supplied forces suffering low morale, were being met by strong Ukrainian resistance, preventing them from gaining ground, say defence sources.
“They clearly were not prepared for them to be in the position they are three weeks in — basically frozen around the country on multiple lines of axes, struggling to fuel themselves and to feed their troops and to supply them with arms and ammunition and meeting a very determined Ukrainian resistance,” said a senior US official.
Mr Heappey told BBC Breakfast: “The reality is that, on the big map, the picture looks exactly the same as it has done for the last week. Russia is making no real progress. That as a headline, would give you some cause for optimism. But what exists beneath the surface is a number of besieged cities, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Sumy most notably, where there is just unimaginable suffering because the Russian tactics are now to just launch artillery indiscriminately into those cities and to not really care apparently who is underneath the artillery when it falls.”
As the war in Ukraine entered its 23rd day:
- British military chiefs said on Friday morning that the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol had all been hit with heavy bombardment.
- Nearly 90 per cent of Mariupol was now reported to have been hit by Russian shelling and air strikes.
- The city’s mayor Vadym Boichenko told the BBC fighting had reached the city centre
- Russia’s defence ministry had earlier claimed separatists in eastern Ukraine, backed by Russian troops, were “tightening the noose” around the southern port city, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.
- Ukraine’s President Zelensky said Russian shelling is still preventing the establishment of effective humanitarian corridors from the city.
- Civic chiefs said several missiles hit a building close to the airport of Lviv, in western Ukraine, to where many refugees have fled as they seek to reach the West. It was believed to be an aircraft maintenance centre.
- Explosions were heard shortly after 6am UK time, to the north-west of Kyiv.
- In a call with Mr Putin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for a ceasefire. However, the Russian president claimed Ukraine was making unrealistic proposals in peace talks, according to the Kremlin.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to tens of thousands of Russians at an event celebrating eight years since the annexation of Crimea.
- One of Russia’s top paratroop commanders, Colonel Sergei Sukharev, of the 331st Guards Parachute Assault Regiment, has been killed in Ukraine, state TV in Moscow confirmed.
Ukraine said 130 survivors had been recovered from the city’s destroyed theatre where hundreds of people were sheltering when it was struck with a Russian missile. Authorities stressed more than 1,300 were still trapped in the basement of the building which was hit on Wednesday.
Mr Heappey condemned Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, for denying that his country’s forces hit the theatre, telling Sky News: “I don’t know how the Russian ambassador sleeps at night.”
US president Joe Biden spoke to Chinese president Xi Jinping on Friday, in an attempt to starve Russia’s war machine by isolating Moscow from the one big power that has yet to condemn its assault.
Mr Biden warned Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday there would be ‘consequences’ if Beijing gave material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House said, while both sides stressed the need for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
“He described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” the White House said in statement, adding that Biden “underscored his support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.”
China’s foreign ministry said Xi told Biden the war in Ukraine must end as soon as possible and called on NATO nations to hold a dialogue with Moscow. He did not, however, assign blame to Russia for the invasion.
Mr Heappey said the UK was now training Ukrainian troops to use the Starstreak anti-aircraft missile system, which Britain is supplying and which was due to arrive in the country “imminently”. He defended Defence Secretary Ben Wallace who ended a call with an imposter posing as the Ukrainian Prime Minister, insisting he would not have said anything inappropriate given his security training. British defence chiefs said this morning that Ukrainian troops were continuing to “frustrate” Russian attempts to encircle the capital Kyiv.
They added: “The UN now states that the number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has already surpassed 3.2 million. This number will continue to rise as a result of ongoing Russian aggression.”
In an earlier briefing, posted about midnight, British defence chiefs stressed that logistical problems “continue to beset Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine”. They also highlighted a series of other flaws in delivering Mr Putin’s invasion plan, which is believed to have led to the death of more than 7,000 Russian troops, according to reports from the US, as well as thousands of civilians, and many Ukrainian soldiers.
“Reluctance to manoeuvre cross-country, lack of control of the air and limited bridging capabilities are preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel,” they said.
The strength and success of the Ukrainian resistance also appears to have been underestimated by the Kremlin. The Ministry of Defence said: “Incessant Ukrainian counter-attacks are forcing Russia to divert large number of troops to defend their own supply lines. This is severely limiting Russia’s offensive potential.”