Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday that it has completed the first phase of its “special military operation” in Ukraine and will now focus on the eastern Donbas region, signaling that Moscow’s strategy might be shifting due to military losses and a stalled campaign.
The statement was delivered at a briefing by Sergei Rudskoi, the head of the Russian general staff’s main operational department, who said that Russia’s objectives “of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” without elaborating.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which, I emphasize once again, makes it possible to focus on the main efforts to achieve the main goal … [the] liberation of Donbas,” Rudskoi added, according to the Interfax news agency.
Since the start of the conflict on Feb. 24, Russia has not been able to secure the capital, Kyiv, or other major cities in Ukraine. Western military officials have said that in recent days, Russia’s forces appear to be bogged down across the country.
Friday’s announcement appeared to indicate that the Kremlin may be switching to more limited objectives. Rudskoi said that Russian-backed separatists now controlled 93 percent of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54 percent of the Donetsk region that both make up the Donbas.
Portions of the Donbas on the eastern border with Russia have been controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014, following the so-called “Maidan” revolution, which was publicly supported by the U.S. State Department, that toppled the Kyiv government.
Ukraine’s air defense and Air Force have been almost fully destroyed during the conflict, Russian officials also claimed, according to Interfax. The Ukrainian military hasn’t issued a public comment.
“The country’s navy has ceased to exist,” Rudskoi also said at the briefing.
Throughout the conflict, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked for fighter planes from NATO countries, although his requests have been denied. He’s also asked for anti-aircraft and anti-ship weapons systems.
Rudskoi said that 1,351 Russian soldiers had died in the operation while 3,825 were injured. Ukraine’s military has said some 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in combat so far.
On Thursday, the Ukrainian military alleged that it destroyed a large Russian transport warship—the Orsk—at a Black Sea port, posting video footage of an explosion and fire.
Western leaders meeting in Brussels for a NATO meeting on March 24 agreed to strengthen their forces in Eastern Europe and increase military aid to Ukraine.
Russian missiles on Friday evening hit a military command center in the city of Vinnytsia, officials in Kyiv confirmed. They said it’s not clear if there were any deaths or injuries.
“Today at around 4.30 p.m, the Russian occupiers launched a missile strike on the territory of the Air Force Command in Vinnytsia,” the Ukrainian Air Force wrote on Telegram, saying the missiles hit “several buildings, causing significant damage to infrastructure.”
The United Nations, in an update, said that some 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country, with many heading to Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and other nearby countries.