Russia is using separatist forces from a contested Ukrainian territory for urban ground assaults in an effort to minimize the impact of the war on its armed forces, according to new information released by British intelligence.
After sustaining heavy losses in a war that has dragged on for more than 100 days, Russia began mobilizing resistance fighters from the Luhansk region of Ukraine in a ground assault to claim control over the city of Sieverodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to an intelligence update from the United Kingdom’s defense ministry, which explained the move “likely indicates a desire to limit casualties suffered by regular Russian forces.”
Separatist forces from the Luhansk region have fought against Ukrainians since 2014 in a Russian-backed revolt, along with resistance fighters from the Donetsk region.
The strategy to use the rebels in Sieverodonetsk is similar to what Moscow has done in Syria, when it deployed soldiers from the Syrian army to assault urban areas. But troops from the self-declared independent region of the Luhansk People’s Republic are “poorly equipped and trained, and lack heavy equipment in comparison to regular Russian units,” the UK said.
Ukraine is pushing back with a counterattack against the Russian assault in Sieverodonetsk. If Russian forces capture the city, it would give them a key hold over the region and a victory in eastern Ukraine, where they hope to gain control of a strategic land bridge over to the Crimean Peninsula.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Telegram post on Sunday that both Ukraine and Russia hold about half of the city. Zelensky estimated last week Russian forces occupied about 20 percent of all territory in Ukraine.
Also on Sunday, Zelensky said Russia fired “several missiles in the direction of Kyiv,” the capital city of Ukraine. The missiles were fired by aircraft deployed from the Caspian Sea. At least one missile was destroyed by Ukrainian forces.
On Telegram, the Russian Ministry of Defense said the missile strikes destroyed tanks and armored vehicles supplied by NATO partners for Ukraine.
The strike comes as the U.S. is shipping long-range missile launchers to Ukraine as part of a $700 million weapons package for Ukrainian forces.