Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Thursday that his forces had repulsed large-scale nocturnal attempts by Ukrainian troops to breach the frontline in the southern Zaporizhzhia area, inflicting significant losses on them.
Reuters was unable to independently verify Shoigu’s battlefield account, and the Ukrainian defense ministry had no immediate comment on the issue.
Some Russian and Western officials have suggested that Ukraine has this week launched its long-awaited counter-offensive against Russian forces, something Kyiv has not publicly confirmed.
Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said his forces had repelled four separate overnight Ukrainian attacks along the southern front and that Kyiv’s forces had been forced to retreat “with heavy losses”.
“At 1.30 a.m. today the enemy attempted to break through our defences in the Zaporizhzhia direction with forces from the 47th Mechanised Brigade numbering up to 1,500 men and 150 armoured vehicles,” Shoigu said in a statement.
“The enemy was detected in time by our reconnaissance forces and a preventative strike was delivered by our artillery and aviation forces and using anti-tank weapons.”
Shoigu alleged that Ukraine had lost 30 tanks, 11 armoured infantry vehicles and up to 350 soldiers. He gave even higher figures for Ukrainian losses purportedly suffered over a 24-hour period yesterday.
Reuters could not independently verify the figures.
The Zaporizhzhia region, of which around 80% is controlled by Russian forces, forms part of the so-called “land bridge” – a stretch of land which connects the Russian-controlled eastern Ukrainian Donbas area with Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Breaking the land bridge has been widely seen as one of Ukraine’s principal objectives for its counter-offensive.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the part of the Zaporizhzhia region which is under Moscow’s control, said Ukrainian forces had tried to break through Russian lines using drones, armoured vehicles and multi-launch rocket systems.
Rogov, who was speaking on his official channel on the Telegram messaging application, said Russian forces expected more such attacks in the coming days and weeks which he called decisive for the course of the war, something which Moscow still calls a “special military operation.”