Russian military pauses in Ukraine to regroup for new attack, analysts predict – National |

Foreign analysts say Russia may be temporarily easing its offensive in Ukraine as the Russian military tries to muster its forces for a renewed assault.

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On Wednesday, Russian forces failed to claim or assess territorial gains in Ukraine “for the first time in 133 days of war,” according to the Institute for the Study of War. The Washington-based think tank suggested Moscow may be taking an “operational pause” but that it does not imply “a complete cessation of active hostilities.”

“Russian forces are likely to be limited to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they try to establish conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious undertakings,” the institute said.

A statement Thursday from the Russian Defense Ministry appeared to confirm that assessment. He said that Russian military units engaged in combat in Ukraine had been given time to rest.

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“The units that performed combat missions during the special military operation are taking steps to restore their combat capabilities. Servicemen are given the opportunity to rest, receive letters and packages from home,” the statement read, quoted by the Russian state news agency Tass.

Shelling continued in eastern Ukraine, where at least nine civilians were killed and six wounded in 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

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Ukraine’s presidential office said in its Thursday morning update that cities and towns in seven Ukrainian regions were shelled the previous day. Most of the civilian deaths 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, a vocational college and a hospital, authorities said.

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

Putin on Monday claimed victory in Luhansk, the other province that makes up Donbas, after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the last town they controlled there. Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai denied on Wednesday that the Russians had fully captured the province.

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In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, a boarding school was attacked, but no one was injured. The Kharkiv region, which straddles the border with Russia, is under daily shelling and two civilians have been killed there in the last 24 hours.

The Ukrainian military said Thursday that Russian forces also carried out shelling and helicopter strikes in the northeastern Sumy region.

Even as the fighting continued, Britain’s Defense Ministry said it believes Russia’s military is “rebuilding” its forces. A ministry intelligence assessment issued on Thursday said heavy shelling along the front line in Donetsk was likely intended to secure Russia’s earlier gains.

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Russia Accused of Civilian Bombing Campaign and Escalation of Attacks in Ukraine

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More hostilities were reported in the Black Sea, where the Ukrainian military said Thursday that a Ukrainian flag had been planted on a strategic island from which Russian troops withdrew last month.

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Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command said in a statement that Ukrainian military units had cleared Snake Island, an outpost off Ukraine’s southwestern coast vital to securing sea routes from the key port of Odessa. The commando group also said the Ukrainian military had destroyed some 30 pieces of Russian military equipment, describing the discovery of “abandoned ammunition and vast ruins.”

Russian troops withdrew from the island on June 30 in what the Russian Defense Ministry called “a gesture of goodwill.” But the ministry said on Thursday that a Russian Aerospace Forces plane had launched a missile attack on the island as Ukrainian forces tried to plant the flag.

“As a result, part of the Ukrainian military personnel was destroyed, the rest fled,” the ministry said.

Ukraine also said Russia fired two missiles at a Moldovan-flagged oil tanker in the Black Sea, setting it on fire.

Ukraine’s southern military command said the attack hit the Millennial Spirit, which has more than 500 tons of diesel fuel on board. Ukraine says one missile hit the ship, while the other went off target. Social media images showed smoke billowing off the coast of Odessa on Thursday morning.

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The ship has been without a crew, adrift at sea since the start of the war in February. Russia did not immediately acknowledge the attack on the ship. The ship’s tracking devices have been down since she was abandoned by her crew.

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Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Turkish ambassador to Kyiv 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 it was briefly detained by Turkish authorities at Ukraine’s request. Ukraine summoned the ambassador to complain about the “unacceptable situation”.

Turkey, with its Bosphorus Strait, is a key 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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