Vladimir Putin sending elite airborne troops in bid to stop Ukrainian breakthrough in east, says UK

Vladimir Putin sending elite airborne troops in bid to stop Ukrainian breakthrough in east, says UK

Vladimir Putin is sending some of his elite airborne troops to shore up his army’s defences against a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the eastern Donbas region, British defence chiefs believe.

Russian generals are thought to be deploying VDV airborne forces to stop a breakthrough by Ukrainian forces on the frontline between Kremina and Svatove.

But these elite units are reported to have been “severely weakened” by losses so far during Mr Putin’s war which started nine months ago.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence in London said: “In the last two weeks, Russia has likely redeployed major elements of the VDV (airborne forces) to the Donetsk and Luhansk fronts in the Donbas.

“From September to October, most of the severely weakened VDV units were dedicated to the defence of the Russian-held territory west of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast (province).

The briefing added: “Some VDV units have likely been reinforced with mobilised reservists. Although these poorly trained personnel will dilute VDV’s supposedly elite capability, Russia will likely still allocate these units to sectors deemed especially important.

“Potential operational tasks for the VDV include supporting the defence of the Kremina-Svatove area in Luhansk Oblast or reinforcing offensive operations against the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut.”

Russian sources were claiming that Ukrainian forces were continuing counter-offensive operations in the directions of Kremina and Svatove, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

Russian troops were seeking to make advances in the Bakhmut area, and digging in on the east bank of the Dnipro, it added.

Ground battles continue to rage in the east, where Russia is pressing an offensive along a stretch of front line west of the city of Donetsk, which has been held by Moscow-backed rebels since 2014.

Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces were trying again to advance on their main targets in Donetsk region - Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

Russian forces shelled both areas and used incendiary devices to set Ukrainian positions ablaze with only limited success, it added.

Further south, Russian forces were digging in on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, the general staff said, shelling areas on the west bank including the town of Kherson, which was recently reclaimed by Ukrainian forces.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the UN Security Council to act against Russia over air strikes on civilian infrastructure that again plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in.

Russia unleashed a missile barrage across Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 10 people, reportedly forcing shutdowns of nuclear power plants and cutting water and electricity supply in many places.

“Today is just one day, but we have received 70 missiles. That’s the Russian formula of terror. This is all against our energy infrastructure,” Mr Zelensky said via video link to the council chamber.

“Hospitals, schools, transport, residential districts all suffered.”

Ukraine was waiting to see “a very firm reaction” to Wednesday’s air strikes from the world, he added.

However, the council is unlikely to take any action in response to the appeal since Russia is a member with veto power.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Putin was “clearly weaponising winter to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people”.

The Russian president “will try to freeze the country into submission,” she added.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, responded by complaining that it was against council rules for Mr Zelensky to appear via video, and rejected what he called “reckless threats and ultimatums” by Ukraine and its supporters in the West.

The Ukrainian capital Kyiv was one of the main targets of Wednesday’s missile strikes.

“Today we had three hits on high-rise apartment buildings. Unfortunately 10 people died,” said Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky.

The entire Kyiv region, where more than three million people live, lost electricity and running water, according to civic chiefs.

Much of Ukraine suffered similar problems and some regions implemented emergency blackouts to help conserve energy and carry out repairs.

Mr Zelensky said power and other services were being reconnected in more areas. “Energy specialists, municipal workers, emergency crews are working around the clock,” he said in his video address.

The temperature was minus 3.4 Celsius (26 Fahrenheit) in Kyiv early on Thursday and 70 per cent of city remained in blackout, the mayor Vitali Klitschko said.