MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday (May 24) that Russia was deliberately slowing its offensive in Ukraine to allow civilians to evacuate, while a top security official said Moscow was not “chasing deadlines” in the three-month-old war.
Their comments signalled that Russia sees no quick end to the fighting, while seeking to dispel any impression that the drawn-out and costly “special military operation” has stalled.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked the comments as pathetic lies designed to hide a disastrous campaign.
Ukraine and its Western allies say the reality is that Russia has lost momentum after running into fierce Ukrainian resistance and suffering heavy losses in both men and equipment.
“Of course, this slows down the pace of the offensive, but this is done deliberately to avoid casualties among the civilian population,” he told defence ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia and five other former Soviet republics.
Zelensky dismissed the statement as “absolutely unreal”, given that Kyiv estimates Russia has lost nearly 30,000 soldiers and thousands of tanks and other armoured vehicles.
“And they are trying to cover this up with lies about how they are supposedly not fighting at full strength? How pathetic - and the time will come when they will recognise this themselves,” he said in a late-night address.
In separate comments, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of President Vladimir Putin's Security Council, said all of Putin's goals in Ukraine would be met because truth was on Russia's side.
"All the goals set by the President will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise, because truth, including historical truth, is on our side," Patrushev said in an interview with the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.
"We are not chasing deadlines," he added.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24 in what it calls a"special military operation" to "denazify" and "demilitarise"its neighbour. But Russian forces have encountered multiple setbacks and suffered significant losses during the three-month campaign.
"Nazism must be 100 per cent eradicated, or it will raise its head again in a few years, in an even uglier form," Patrushev said, doubling down on Russia's stated aims for the military conflict.
He also said Ukraine was being used by the West to contain Russia, echoing charges laid out by President Vladimir Putin to justify the conflict.
"The ideal scenario for the whole of Nato, led by the United States, seems to be an endless simmering conflict," Patrushev said.
Despite Shoigu’s comments on sparing civilians, the United Nations has recorded 3,930 civilian casualties during the conflict. Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilian areas, and accused Ukraine, without evidence, of using people as “human shields”.