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Putin generals using elite airborne troops as ‘line infantry’ to try to stop Ukrainian breakthrough, says UK

Russian troops during a bilateral exercise with Belarus   (AP)
Russian troops during a bilateral exercise with Belarus (AP)

Vladimir Putin’s generals are throwing elite airborne troops onto the frontline as “line infantry to augment over-stretched ground forces,” British defence chiefs said on Monday.

Russian commanders are believed to be adopting the tactic to stop a major Ukrainian breakthrough in the south of the country.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence in London said: “Over the last two weeks, Russia has likely further reinforced the hard-pressed 58th Combined Arms Army with additional VDV airborne units on the Orikhiv axis in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

“A total of at least five VDV regiments drawn from the 7th and 76th divisions are likely now concentrated within several kilometres of the frontline village of Robotyne.”

A Russian soldier patrols at the Mariupol drama theatre (AFP via Getty Images)
A Russian soldier patrols at the Mariupol drama theatre (AFP via Getty Images)

The briefing added: “At full strength, such a force should constitute around 10,000 elite paratroopers. However, almost all units are highly likely dramatically under strength.

“The current situation is likely to be seen as highly unsatisfactory by the VDV hierarchy.

“Throughout the war Russian commanders have attempted to regenerate the airborne forces as a highly mobile, striking force for offensive operations. Once again, they are being used as line infantry to augment over-stretched ground forces.”

Britain, the US, Ukraine and their allies are fighting an information war against Russia so their briefings need to be treated with caution, but are far more believable than the propaganda issued by the Kremlin.

Ukraine reported on Monday its troops had recaptured more territory on the eastern front and advanced in the south in its military counter-offensive against Russian forces.

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv's forces had retaken two square km (0.77 square mile) of land in the past week around the shattered eastern town of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian troops in May after months of fighting.

Ukrainian servicemen pose in front of a destroyed building in the village of Klyshchiivka (Ukrainian Presidential Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukrainian servicemen pose in front of a destroyed building in the village of Klyshchiivka (Ukrainian Presidential Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak/AFP via Getty Images)

Kyiv's forces also recaptured two villages on the southern flank of the city, Andriivka and Klishchiivka, Ms Maliar said.

Both communities lie on higher ground and their capture could set the stage to reasserting control over the pivotal city.

Kyiv's troops have liberated 51 square km (19 square miles) near Bakhmut since the start of the counter-offensive, Ms Maliar added.

Further south in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian troops continued to hold back a Russian offensive towards the towns of Avdiivka and Maryinka, she explained.

Ukrainian forces are trying to advance toward the Sea of Azov in a southern drive intended to split Russian forces and retook 5.2 square km (two square miles) in the past week, said Maliar.

Overall, Ukraine has regained more than 260 square km (100 square miles) in the south during the counteroffensive, she said.

During its three-month counter-offensive, Ukraine has reported slow, steady progress against entrenched Russian positions, retaking a string of villages and advancing on the flanks of Bakhmut but taking no major settlements.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials have dismissed Western critics who say the offensive is too slow and hampered by strategic errors.

Ukraine said on Monday it downed 18 Russian drones and 17 cruise missiles attacking its territory overnight.

Russia launched 24 drones at the Ukrainian southern regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv overnight, Ukraine's air force said in a post on Telegram.

It added that all 17 missiles were destroyed over the Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava and Khmelnytskyi regions.