The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday that the “first stage” of its attack on Ukraine is mostly complete and that it will now mainly focus on “liberating” the Donbas region.
“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” said Sergei Rudskoi, the head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, according to Reuters.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” he added.
A senior Pentagon official said Friday that US intelligence shows Russia is prioritizing the Donbas. “They are prioritizing it and we concur, our information would concur, with that,” the official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
According to Rudskoi, the separatists of the breakaway Donbas republics now control 93% of Luhansk and 54% of Donestk, the two regions that make up the Donbas.
Rudskoi also gave an updated death toll for Russia’s armed forces. He said a total of 1,351 Russian troops have been killed, and another 3,825 were injured. The numbers are far lower than the estimates given by the US, NATO, and Ukraine.
NATO said this week that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops have died, and Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces claimed that over 15,000 have been killed. At this point, the Russian death toll isn’t confirmed, as the West and Ukraine have an interest in exaggerating the number, and Moscow has an interest in downplaying its losses.
Rudskoi claimed that 14,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed in the invasion, and another 16,000 were injured, although the numbers aren’t confirmed. Also on Friday, the UN said it confirmed 1,081 civilian deaths and 1,707 injuries in Ukraine.
Rudskoi also detailed the Ukrainian military hardware he said Russia has destroyed during the operation.
Western media is portraying Russia’s announcement as Moscow backing down from other goals in Ukraine. Russia has taken some significant losses, but it never laid out its strategy as explicitly. At the time Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion he framed it as “defending” people in the Donbas.
Rudskoi said that Russia never planned on taking certain major cities it has launched strikes in, including Kyiv and Kharkiv, although he said it’s not ruled out as an option. “We did not plan to storm these cities from the start, in order to prevent destruction and minimize losses among personnel and civilians,” he said.