Ukraine admitted for the first time that it had lost access to the Sea of ​​Azov, a potentially significant setback that underscores the magnitude of Russia’s military gains in the southeast of the country.

The confession came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for extensive peace talks with Moscow, warning it would take Russia “several generations” to recover from its losses in the war.

“It’s time to meet. It’s time to talk,” Zelensky said in a video address to the nation. “It is time to restore territorial integrity and justice to Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be so great that it will take you several generations to recover.”

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, the offensive appears to have stalled on several fronts, slowed by logistical challenges, tactical missteps and intense Ukrainian resistance.

Russia has been forced to “change its operational approach and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition,” the Ministry of Defense said.

“This is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of firepower, resulting in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensification of the humanitarian crisis,” the Defense Ministry said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he expects Russia to try
and bring in additional troops in the coming days.

“We have not seen any evidence that they have large numbers
forces recently, but due to the fact that they are stuck on a
number of fronts there, it makes sense that [Valdimir Putin] would like to increase his capabilities in the future,” Austin said after his meeting
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.

More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine, causing Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the war “disrupted supply chains and pushed up prices of fuel, food and transport”.

“We must do everything possible to avoid a hurricane of hunger and a collapse of the global food system,” he said.

One of the main targets of the Russian offensive is Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov that has been surrounded and subjected to relentless bombing by Russian forces. Thousands of people in the city – which had a pre-war population of 460,000 – have been forced to live in shelters, deprived of electricity, heat and communication services, and running out of food and water.

Earlier this week, the Russian Air Force bombed Mariupol’s main municipal theater, which had been used as a shelter by hundreds of civilians. Authorities said more than 130 people had been rescued from the rubble, but hundreds were missing and could still be inside the building.

The capture of Mariupol would give Russians control of the entire northern coast of the Sea of ​​Azov, cut off Ukraine from a crucial pipeline to the Black Sea and allow Moscow to form a land corridor to Crimea, the peninsula it illegally opened in 2014. of Ukraine has annexed it.

The Ukrainian General Staff said on Friday evening that Russian forces had “partially succeeded in the Donetsk Theater, temporarily blocking Ukraine’s access to the Sea of ​​Azov”.

“Our job is not to allow them to gain a foothold on these borders, because then it will be very difficult to dislodge them,” said Oleksandr V Danylyuk, head of the Kiev-based Center for Defense Reform and former adviser to the Ukrainian Defense Minister.

“The minimum task for the Russian side . † † is to capture a land corridor to Crimea and control the water supply system for the peninsula, along with trying to destabilize the situation in Kiev,” he added.

Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday it had used its Kinzhal hypersonic missile to hit a target in Ukraine for the first time, and claimed it hit an ammunition storage facility in the west of the country on Friday.

“The Kinzhal missile system with hypersonic ballistic missiles destroyed a large underground storage facility for missiles and aircraft ammunition belonging to Ukrainian troops in Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region,” said ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the Kinzhal is an air-launched nuclear missile and one of the “next generation” weapons that Putin unveiled in 2018.

“Russia’s designation of the Kinzhal as a ‘hysonic’ missile is somewhat misleading, as nearly all ballistic missiles reach hypersonic speeds. † † at some point during their flight,” the CSIS said.

Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Sofia

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