Russian troops occupying the region north-east of Kyiv are reportedly low on morale and in danger of being surrounded as Ukraine continues to mount a surprising defence of the capital.
The latest intelligence assessment from Britain’s Defence Ministry released on Thursday advised that Ukraine’s forces were “increasing pressure” on Russian troops north-east of the capital.
“Ukrainian forces are carrying out successful counter attacks against Russian positions in towns on the outskirts of the capital,” the Defence Intelligence assessment said.
There was a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces were now able to encircle Russian units in Buch and Irpin, it said.
Defence Intelligence said Russian forces in the region faced “considerable supply and morale issues”.
Thursday’s report came four weeks into the Russian invasion and as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a show of solidarity as NATO, the G7, and the EU met to discuss further sanctions.
Mr Zelensky warned he would see who balked at summits in Europe, where bolstering sanctions was planned but restrictions on energy could prove divisive.
US President Joe Biden has arrived in Brussels for meetings of the alliance, G7 and the European Union over the conflict, which has already caused more than 3.6 million refugees to flee Ukraine.
Oil and gas dispute
Mr Biden’s visit could also shine light on a dispute with European allies, some of whom are heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas, over whether to impose further energy sanctions.
The issue had been a “substantial” topic and the subject of “intense back and forth” in recent days, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow planned to switch the payment for gas sales made to “unfriendly” countries – including Australia, New Zealand, the US, EU members, Britain and Japan – to roubles.
Russian gas accounts for some 40 per cent of Europe’s total gas consumption.
As the humanitarian toll from the conflict continues to rise, Mr Zelensky called on people around the world to take to the streets and demand an end to the war.
“Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities, come in the name of peace, come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life,” he said in a video address ahead of his meeting with Mr Biden.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would boost its forces in eastern Europe by deploying four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
Mr Zelenskiy said on Thursday he expected “serious steps” from Western allies.
He repeated his call for a no-fly zone and complained that the West had not provided Ukraine with planes, modern anti-missile systems, tanks or anti-ship weapons.
“At these three summits we will see who is our friend, who is our partner and who sold us out and betrayed us,” he said in a video address.
Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
The West says this a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
Although the Kremlin says its operation is going to plan, Russian forces have taken heavy losses, stalled on most fronts and face supply problems.
They have turned to siege tactics and bombardments, causing huge destruction and many civilian deaths.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Wednesday that 264 civilians in the city had been killed by Russian attacks.
He later said one person was killed and two wounded on Wednesday when shells hit a shopping centre car park.
Russia has denied targeting civilians.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US considered that members of Russia’s forces had committed war crimes.
Mr Blinken said there had been “numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities”.
Worst hit has been the southern port of Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of people have sheltered since the war’s early days under constant bombardment and with food, water and heating supplies cut.
More than 4500 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Wednesday, a senior official said, considerably fewer than the previous day.
As Western leaders prepared to meet, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would push for an increase in defensive lethal aid to Ukraine.
The first US shipment from a new arms package for Ukraine authorised last week will start flying out in the next day or so, a senior defence official said.
An information battle is also raging, with Russian regulators blocking Google News, saying the service allows access to what it calls fake material about the military operation, Interfax news agency said.
Google was not immediately available for comment.
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