ladimir Putin’s troops are suffering “significant casualties” as they desperately try to hold onto the Kherson province of southern Ukraine, a British military think tank said on Thursday.
Dr Jack Watling, senior research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute, stressed that there was “fierce fighting” but so far Russian units had stopped Ukrainian forces from “advancing rapidly”.
Russian troops in the north east Kharkiv area had “collapsed” and retreated after a surprise counter-offensive by the Ukrainian army.
Weapons and equipment, some supplied by the West, which have been “critical” to some of the Ukrainian successes include long range rocket artillery, targeting capability to strike ammunition dumps for Russian artillery, anti-radiation missiles to suppress Russian air defence systems and electronic warfare complexes, and protected military vehicles which had allowed Ukrainian forces to move “very quickly”.
Giving an update on the state of the conflict, Dr Watling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Russians are desperately trying to hold onto Kherson.
“They are taking significant casualties in the south but they are able to prevent the Ukrainians from making rapid advances.
“So, there is fierce fighting there.”
He added: “In the north, the (Russian) western group of troops collapsed, north of Izyum, and has withdrawn.
“The Russians are now working to stabilise their defensive lines and the Ukrainians seem to have slowed down their pursuit because they are concerned about out-running their own logistics.
“So, we we are now seeing the line reform and the Ukranians are setting up for further actions.”
The setbacks suffered by Mr Putin’s troops had not led to a “cascading effect of collapse” but morale in many units was “very low”.
Russian troops were therefore still ”vulnerable to shock” which could lead to further “collapses” in military formations.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Thursday that Russian forces had launched attacks on several settlements on the Kharkiv frontline in the past 24 hours
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said towns and villages recaptured from Russian forces had been devastated, while a major city stepped up efforts on Thursday to repair damage to its water system from missile attacks.
Mr Zelensky made a surprise visit on Wednesday to Izyum, until four days ago Russia’s main bastion in the Kharkiv region, where he watched as the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag was raised in front of the charred city council building.
“Our law enforcers are already receiving evidence of murder, torture, and abductions of people by the occupiers,” he said in an overnight address, stressing there was “evidence of genocide against Ukrainians”.
He added: “They only destroyed, only seized, only deported. They left devastated villages, and in some of them there is not a single surviving house.”
Mr Zelensky’s video address was released after his return to Kyiv from the Kharkiv region and following word from his office that his car had collided with a private vehicle in the capital.
“The president was examined by a doctor, no serious injuries were found,” presidential spokesman Serhii Nykyforov said in a Facebook post early on Thursday.
Kryvyi Rih, the largest city in central Ukraine with an estimated pre-war population of 650,000, was hit by eight cruise missiles on Wednesday, officials said.
The strikes hit the Karachunov reservoir dam, said Mr Zelensky.
The water system had “no military value” and hundreds of thousands of civilians depend on it daily, he added.
Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the Krivyi Rih military administration, said in a post on Telegram that 112 homes were flooded but that works to repair the dam on the Inhulets river were under way and that “flooding was receding”.
Meanwhile, Mr Putin was set to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan early on Thursday afternoon.
The two leaders were in Samarkand to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a regional security group. They will also hold a three-way meeting with Mongolian President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh.
Separately, the Uzbek government said Mr Putin would also meet Iranian, Kyrgyz, Pakistani, Turkmen and Uzbek leaders.
On Friday, Mr Putin is set to meet the leaders of Azerbaijan, India and Turkey.
Mr Putin and Mr Xi, who has left China for the first time in more than two years since the Covid pandemic struck, were expected to discuss Ukraine and Taiwan at the meeting which the Kremlin says would hold “special significance” given the geopolitical situation.