Russia may be temporarily easing its military offensive in eastern Ukraine as the Russian military attempts to reassemble its forces for a significant – and what it hopes could prove decisive – new offensive, analysts say.
Russian forces made no claimed or assessed territorial gains in Ukraine “for the first time in 133 days of war” on Wednesday, according to the Institute for the Study of War.
The Washington-based think-tank based suggested that Moscow may be taking an “operational pause”, but that does not entail “the complete cessation of active hostilities” in Ukraine.
“Russian forces will likely confine themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to set conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious undertakings,” the institute said.
Russia’s defence ministry seemed to confirm that assessment in a statement on Thursday.
The ministry said Russian military units involved in combat in Ukraine had been given time to rest.
“The units that performed combat missions during the special military operation are taking measures to recover their combat capabilities. The servicemen are given the opportunity to rest, receive letters and parcels from home,” read the statement, quoted by Russian state news agency TASS.
Shelling continued in Ukraine’s east, where at least nine civilians were killed and six wounded in 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said early Thursday.
Ukraine’s presidential office said in its morning update that cities and villages in seven of the country’s regions were shelled in the past day.
Later on Thursday, a missile hit a residential area in the Donetsk city of Kramatorsk, killing one civilian and injuring at least six others, officials said. Cars and broken trees smouldered at the scene of the missile attack, which left a crater in the centre of a residential courtyard.
Shelling and helicopter attacks
Three people were killed and at least two wounded in what appeared to be a rocket attack on a residential neighbourhood of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Earlier in the day, a boarding school was hit in Kharkiv but no one was injured. In separate attacks, the Ukrainian regional administration reported that three people across the Kharkiv region had been wounded by shelling.
The Kharkiv region, which lies along the border with Russia, is under daily shelling, and at least five civilians were killed there since Wednesday.
In all, 10 cities and villages came under shelling in Donetsk, and 35 buildings were destroyed, including a school, a vocational college and a hospital, officials said.
The Ukrainian military said on Thursday that Russian forces also carried out shelling and helicopter attacks in the Sumy region in the northeast.
Even as the fighting continued, the British Ministry of Defence said it thinks Russia’s military is “reconstituting” its forces. A ministry intelligence assessment issued on Thursday said the heavy shelling along the front line in Donetsk is likely intended to secure previous Russian gains.
(1/5) On 06 July 2022, heavy shelling continued along the Donetsk front line, but with few advances being made by Russia. Russian units involved in last week’s gains are now likely re-constituting.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) July 7, 2022
Black Sea hostilities
Further hostilities were reported in the Black Sea on Thursday. Ukraine’s Operational Command South said in a statement that Ukrainian military units had cleared Snake Island, an outpost off Ukraine’s southwestern coast vital for guaranteeing sea lanes out of Odesa, home to Ukraine’s biggest port.
The command group said that in addition to planting Ukraine’s flag on the island, the Ukrainian military also destroyed left-behind Russian military equipment.
The Russian defence ministry said that a Russian military aircraft launched a missile attack on the island destroying the Ukrainian forces attempting to plant the flag. The claim could not be immediately verified.
Ukraine claimed Russia fired two missiles targeting a Moldovan-flagged oil tanker in the Black Sea, setting it ablaze. The ship had been without a crew, drifting at sea since the start of the war in February. Russia did not immediately acknowledge the attack on the vessel. The ship’s tracking devices have been down since it was abandoned.
Social media images showed smoke rising off the coast of Odesa on Thursday morning.