Russia says it has driven Ukrainian army from 211 square miles of territory this year

walks at a position after firing a howitzer toward Russian troops near a front line in Donetsk region

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said his troops had taken control of 547 square kilometres (211 square miles) of territory this year in what he called Russia's "new regions," a reference to four Ukrainian regions that Moscow says it has annexed.

Shoigu, in remarks on Friday to senior military commanders, said Ukrainian forces were retreating all along the front line and that Russian troops were breaking what he called a network of Ukrainian strongholds.

"The Ukrainian army units are trying to cling on to individual lines, but under our onslaught they are forced to abandon their positions and retreat," said Shoigu.

"Over the past two weeks, the Russian Armed Forces have liberated the settlements of Novobakhmutivka, Semenivka and Berdychi in the Donetsk People's Republic," he said, referring to the name Russia uses for one of the four annexed regions.

Ukraine's top commander said on Sunday that Kyiv's outnumbered troops had fallen back to new positions west of three villages on the eastern front.

Moscow said in September 2022, seven months after sending troops into Ukraine, that it had incorporated four Ukrainian regions - Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia - into its own sovereign territory despite not fully controlling any of them.

Ukraine said the move was an illegal land grab and has said it plans to evict every Russian soldier from its territory, including from Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

Russia controls about 18% of Ukraine - in the east and south - and has been gaining ground since Kyiv's 2023 counter-offensive failed to make any serious inroads against well dug-in Russian troops.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry)