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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
Libkos/PA A soldier of Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade looks on against the background of an APC near Bakhmut on Monday

South-east Ukraine is now main focus of fighting, says Russia

Ukrainian troops in the region have advanced nearly five miles in three months, in gruelling fighting.

The Zaporizhzhia region of south-east Ukraine has become the most recent hot spot for battles in the 18-month war, said Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

It comes as Ukrainian forces pressed ahead with their counteroffensive.

Shoigu told Russian military officers on Tuesday that Ukraine has called up reserve brigades there that were trained by Kyiv’s western allies.

He offered no evidence for his claim, which could not be independently verified.

Strategic significance

Fighting in the south east could be one of the keys to the war.

If Russian defences there collapse, Ukrainian forces could push south towards the coast and potentially split Russian forces in two.

Mr Shoigu’s assertion was corroborated in part by other reports and assessments of Ukraine’s three-month-old effort to drive out the Kremlin’s troops.

The US think tank, The Institute for the Study of War, citing geolocated footage, said on Tuesday that Ukrainian light infantry has advanced beyond some of the anti-tank ditches and dense minefields that make up Russia’s layered defences in Zaporizhzhia.

However, it said it was unable to say that the defence was fully breached because no Ukrainian heavy armour has been seen in the area.

Ukrainian brigades have made most recent battlefield gains in the south as the counteroffensive inches forward under heavy fire.

Small gains

Since the grinding counteroffensive began about three months ago, Ukraine has advanced nearly five miles in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrainian officials claim.

Troops surmounted dense Russian fortifications last week to retake the village of Robotyne.

That was Ukraine’s first tactically significant victory in that part of the country.

Ukrainian forces have made more progress in that area and were fortifying captured positions on Tuesday morning, according to Pavlo Kovalchuk, spokesman of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Neither side’s battlefield claims could be verified.

If Ukrainian troops advance just nine miles from Robotyne, they could come within firing range of Russia’s east-west transport routes and potentially weaken Moscow’s combat capabilities, military observers say.

Ukrainian forces are advancing without air cover, making their progress harder and slower, while Russia has launched its own push in the northeast to pin down Ukrainian forces and prevent them being redeployed to the south.

Ukraine has adapted its counteroffensive tactics in recent weeks, moving from attempts to bludgeon its way through Russian lines using western-supplied armour to better-planned tactical attacks that make incremental gains, according to the British think tank, the Royal United Services Institute.

“However, this approach is slow, with approximately 700–1,200 metres (2,300-4,000 feet) of progress every five days, allowing Russian forces to reset,” it said in an assessment on Monday.

Press Association