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Russian forces finish 'first stage' of war, shift to Ukraine's east, general says

The Russian military would now focus on the "complete liberation" of the Donbas region, an official said.
Image: Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle in Dokuchaievsk
Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armored vehicle with the symbols "Z" painted on its sides, in Dokuchaievsk, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on March 25, 2022.Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

Russian forces are shifting away from their country-wide attack on Ukraine and refocusing on the "complete liberation" of the country's separatist Donbas region, a Russian general said Friday.

Speaking on the state-owned news channel Russia-24, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, deputy chief of staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, said his country's military had completed the "first stage" of what President Vladimir Putin has called a "special military operation."

The move comes days after senior Pentagon officials told reporters that the Russian military appeared to be modifying a strategy it had used since launching the invasion on Ukraine last month.

Russian forces were no longer pushing multiple lines of attack across the entire territory, including around the capital Kyiv, the officials said, adding that they were instead focusing on the country's east.

The Russian-backed breakaway “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk have been involved in a low-intensity conflict with Ukrainian forces since 2014, when Russia also annexed Crimea. More than 14,000 people were killed in the conflict before Russia’s invasion last month.

Rudskoy’s comments came as its armed forces appeared to settle on a strategy of relentless assault after its military was hobbled by bad planning and stiff resistance from Ukrainians. 

A NATO official said the organization estimates that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops have died and tens of thousands more have been injured, captured or gone missing.

Earlier Friday, a U.S. defense official said Russia had deployed reinforcements to Ukraine, the first time it had done so since amassing 150,000 troops around the country.

After a counter-attack from Ukrainian forces, the Russian military also lost control of Kherson, the largest city to have fallen in the invasion, a U.S. defense official said.

Rudosky claimed that Ukraine had suffered roughly 30,000 military casualties. NBC News has not independently confirmed this figure.

Ukraine's ability to fight had been "significantly reduced," he said, adding that this makes "it possible, once again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbas."