Russian forces have taken over Ukraine’s second-biggest power plant and are conducting a “massive redeployment” of troops to three southern regions, a Ukrainian presidential adviser has said, amid expectations of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Russian-backed forces said on Wednesday they had captured intact the Soviet-era coal-fired Vuhlehirska power plant, in what is Moscow’s first significant gain in more than three weeks.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, confirmed the capture of the plant in the eastern Donetsk region, but said it was only a “tiny tactical advantage” for Russia.
The Russian redeployment to the south appeared to be a switch from offence to strategic defence, he added, with troops sent to the Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.
Ukraine has made clear it intends to recapture the southern city of Kherson, which fell to Russia in the early days of the war.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, earlier tweeted that Russia was concentrating “the maximum number of troops” in the direction of Kherson but gave no details.
Arestovych also said Ukraine’s operation to liberate Kherson “has already begun” after striking the Antonivskiy Bridge – a key Russian supply route into the Russian-occupied southern city on Wednesday.
In a Wednesday evening address, Zelenskiy said: “We are doing everything to ensure that the occupying forces do not have any logistical opportunities in our country”, and promised to rebuild the Antonivskiy Bridge and other crossings in the region.
Russian officials earlier said they would turn instead to pontoon bridges and ferries to get forces across the river.
Arestovych also confirmed Ukraine’s strategy to isolate Russian forces, saying in an interview with Ukrainian television on Wednesday night that there was a “certain plan” of the armed forces of Ukraine to “isolate [Russia’s] military operations”.
“No matter how much the enemy overtakes forces and resources on the western bank of the Dnieper, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will first leave them without ammunition depots, fuel, communications and command, and then they will clean up the remnants of their forces,” he said, adding that Russian forces had three options: “Retreat (if possible), surrender or be destroyed.”
Another senior presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, added: “Occupiers should learn how to swim across the Dnieper river. Or should leave Kherson while it is still possible. There may not be a third warning.”
Ukrainian forces in the south said they had killed 66 enemy troops and destroyed three tanks and two arms dumps in the past 24 hours. Russian forces attacked the city of Mykolaiv with multiple rocket launchers, they added. Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he planned a phone conversation with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov – the first between the two diplomats since before the start of the war.
The call in the coming days would not be “a negotiation about Ukraine”, Blinken said at a news conference, restating Washington’s position that any talks on ending the war must be between Kyiv and Moscow.
Aside from discussing Americans detained by Russia, Blinken said he would raise with Lavrov the tentative deal on grain exports reached last week between Russia, the US, Turkey and Ukraine.
Russia has received no formal request from Washington about a phone call between Blinken and Lavrov, Tass news agency reported.
The US has made “a substantial offer” to Russia for it to release two US citizens, WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, Blinken said, without giving details of what the US was offering in return.
Blinken said he would press Lavrov to respond to the offer.
A source familiar with the situation confirmed a CNN report that Washington was willing to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US, as part of a deal.
The last publicly recognised contact between Blinken and Lavrov was 22 February, when Blinken wrote to Lavrov to cancel a meeting they had planned as a last-ditch effort to avert the Russian invasion, saying Moscow had shown no interest in serious diplomacy on the matter.
Russian forces capture Ukraine’s second-biggest power station – The Guardian