Russian troops in Ukraine pause to ‘restore their combat capabilities’, says Moscow

Foreign analysts say Russia may be temporarily easing its offensive in Ukraine as the Russian military tries to reassemble its forces for another strike.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russian forces did not claim or assess any territorial gains in Ukraine for the first time in 133 days of war on Wednesday. The Washington-based think tank suggested Moscow may be taking an “operational pause” that does not include “the complete cessation of active hostilities”.

“Russian forces are likely to limit themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to create conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious ventures,” the institute said.

A statement from the Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday appeared to confirm that assessment. It said Russian military units involved in fighting in Ukraine were given time to rest.

“The units that carried out combat missions during the special military operation are taking measures to restore their combat capabilities. The military will be given the opportunity to rest, receive letters and parcels from home,” the statement said, quoted by the Russian state news agency bag.

Shelling in Eastern Ukraine

Shelling continued in eastern Ukraine, killing at least nine civilians and injuring six within 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukraine’s presidential office said in its Thursday morning update that towns and villages in seven Ukrainian regions have been shelled in the past day. Most civilian casualties occurred in Donetsk province, where fighting continues. Seven civilians were killed there, including a child, the presidential office said.

Ten towns and villages were shelled in Donetsk and 35 buildings were destroyed, including a school, vocational school and hospital, officials said.

Donetsk is part of the Donbas, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area where Ukraine’s most experienced soldiers are concentrated. Pro-Russian separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years, controlling much of the Donbas. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two self-proclaimed republics there just before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

People take cover on Thursday during a strike in Kramatorsk, Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

Putin on Monday claimed victory in Luhansk, the other province that makes up the Donbas, after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the last city they controlled there. Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai denied on Wednesday that the Russians had completely taken the province.

A boarding school was hit in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, but no one was injured. The Kharkiv region, which lies along the border with Russia, is being shelled daily and two civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours.

The Ukrainian army said on Thursday that Russian forces also carried out shelling and helicopter strikes in the northeast’s Sumy region.

PHOTOS | Day 134 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

Even as the fighting continued, the British Ministry of Defense said it believes the Russian military is “repairing” its troops. An assessment by the ministry’s intelligence agency released Thursday said the heavy shelling along the frontline in Donetsk is likely intended to secure previous Russian gains.

The UK ministry noted a new law pending in the Russian parliament to give the government special economic powers during the war.

The law would allow Russia “to avoid acknowledging that it is engaged in war or failing to defeat Ukraine’s army that was outnumbered and under-armed,” the ministry said.

Smoke rises after shelling near the Donbas city of Slovyansk on Thursday. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

As fighting continued in the east, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it had summoned the Turkish ambassador to Kiev on Thursday over what it described as the theft of Ukrainian grain by a Russian ship.

The Russian ship Zhibek Zholy was allowed to leave Turkey’s Black Sea coast after Turkish authorities briefly detained it at Ukraine’s request. Ukraine summoned the ambassador to complain about the “unacceptable situation”.

Turkey, with its Bosphorus Strait, is an important transit route for shipping from the Black Sea. Ukraine has tried to pressure Ankara to stop Russian shipments of its grain, a vital source of income.

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