Vladimir Putin seems to be reducing his ambitions in Ukraine to “liberate” the Donbass

Vladimir Putin seemed to be preparing the Russians for a possible reduction in his ambitions in Ukraine, moving from taking kyiv to fighting for control of the East.

As the Russian president’s troops suffered a series of setbacks, Moscow said the “special military operation” would now focus on “the main objective, the liberation of Donbass”.

It was hoped that the move might amount to a curtailment of the invasion, as Ukrainian troops would regain ground around the capital of kyiv.

Western intelligence also suggested that a Russian brigade commander, Colonel Medvechek, was deliberately shot and killed by his own troops.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson clashed with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a “frank and frank” discussion as Western allies tried to pressure Beijing not to offer support to Moscow.

In a terse reading after the 50-minute phone call, a Number 10 spokesperson said they discussed “a range of issues of mutual interest”, including the situation in Ukraine.

The contact came after NATO leaders urged China to “refrain” from supporting Russia’s war effort and refrain from any action that would help it circumvent sanctions.

In the besieged city of Mariupol, authorities said around 300 people died in a Russian airstrike earlier this month on a theater where hundreds of people had taken refuge.

If confirmed, it will likely lead to renewed calls for Western powers to step up military support for Ukrainian forces.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (Shuji Kajiyama/AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping (Shuji Kajiyama/AP)

Facing surprisingly fierce resistance, the Russian Defense Ministry said that after completing the “first phase” of military operations, its forces would focus on the Donbass region partly held by Moscow-backed separatist rebels.

In his overnight address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 16,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in the conflict as he called on Moscow to negotiate an end to the war, but warned he would not give up his sovereign territory.

Western officials said the Russian statement was an acknowledgment that its forces were overstretched and may have to “pause” operations around kyiv and other cities while they focus on the east of the country.

“It is clear that Russia recognizes that it cannot continue operations on multiple axes simultaneously,” an official said.

“It must therefore concentrate its forces, in particular its logistical supply and its firepower, on a more limited number of approaches.”

Former British Ambassador to the US Lord Darroch believed Mr Putin was trying to redefine his goals, having initially said one of them was to “denazify” the kyiv government.

“I think he is trying to broadcast his version of events first. It’s a pretty flimsy story, let’s face it, but he’s trying to create the narrative in the hope that the Russian people will buy it and hide how badly it went,” he said. at BBC Newsnight.

The former diplomat said ‘certainly that was actually not the plan’, adding: ‘They didn’t launch a multi-pronged invasion a month ago to say now that it’s not going to happen. acts only from Luhansk and Donetsk”.

An intelligence assessment from the UK Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainians were continuing to push back Russian forces advancing towards the capital.

“Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian forces retreating to overstretched supply lines allowed Ukraine to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Kyiv “, did he declare.

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A man rides a bicycle as black smoke billows from a fuel storage tank following a Russian attack on the outskirts of kyiv (Rodrigo Abd/AP)


A man rides a bicycle as black smoke billows from a fuel storage tank following a Russian attack on the outskirts of kyiv (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

A man rides a bicycle as black smoke billows from a fuel storage tank following a Russian attack on the outskirts of kyiv (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

NATO has estimated that in four weeks of fighting, between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in action – compared to 15,000 they lost in 10 years in Afghanistan.

A Western official said that of the 115 to 120 battalion tactical groups the Russians had at the start of the operation, 20 were no longer “combat effective”.

In other developments, Environment Minister Victoria Prentis told the Telegraph she had taken in a Ukrainian refugee who is a friend of the MP’s daughter.

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