Putin has deployed Iskander-M mobile battlefield missile launchers within 40 miles of the Ukrainian border, Ukraine’s military has said.
The mobile system’s two ballistic missiles have a range of up to 300 miles and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
‘Then enemy has increased the number of troops in the Belgorod region by transferring and concentrating additional units,’ the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily morning update.
‘According to available information, Iskander-M launchers have been deployed 60 km from the border with Ukraine,’ it said, without providing more detail on the location of the systems.
Belgorod is a city and the administrative centre of Russia’s Belgorod region, north of the border with Ukraine.
The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile.
First used in combat in 2008 in Georgia, the Iskander is designed to confound missile defences by flying on a low trajectory and manoeuvring in flight to strike targets as far out as 500km with an accuracy of 2-5 metres, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
It comes as Russia is planning a staged referendum in the city of Kherson in a bid to create a link to Crimea and justify its invasion in southern Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence has claimed.
Putin has deployed Iskander-M mobile battlefield missile launchers (above) within 40 miles of the Ukrainian border, Ukraine’s military has said
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Orthodox Easter service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow
The mobile system’s two ballistic missiles have a range of up to 300 miles and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads
Russia previously held a rigged vote on the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation in 2014 in which 97 per cent voted in favour – a result then US President Barack Obama said would ‘never be recognised’.
On Sunday evening, the MoD said Russia was planning a similar move in Kherson where it is planning to establish a land bridge to Crimea.
The southern Ukraine city was one of the first settlements to fall to Russian troops after the war broke out. There had been hopes that Ukrainian soldiers could liberate the people of Kherson as Russian forces withdrew towards the east of the country.
In an intelligence update, the MoD said: ‘Russia is planning a staged referendum in the southern city of Kherson aimed at justifying its occupation. The city is key to Russia’s objective of establishing a land bridge to Crimea and dominating southern Ukraine.
Iskander missile launch at the command post of the Armed Forces brigade
Crews of Iskander operational-tactical missile systems attacked military infrastructure facilities and military equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in April
The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile
‘Russia previously held an illegitimate referendum on the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation in 2014 to retrospectively justify its seizure of the Peninsula.
‘Russia’s own domestic elections have been beset by allegations of vote rigging and have seen high profile opposition blocked from running.’
In the vote held in Crimea in 2014, final results showed 96.6 per cent of voters backed passing control of the region from Kiev to Moscow.
It came after Ukraine’s then prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk vowed to hunt down the ‘separatist leaders’ in Crimea, warning that the ground would ‘burn under their feet’.
The US, EU and Ukrainian government declared the ballot illegal and said they would not back the outcome.
The Kremlin back Crimean officials and President Putin claimed to Obama that the vote ‘complies with international law’.
Russia is planning a staged referendum in the city of Kherson in a bid to justify its invasion in southern Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence has claimed
Russia previously held a rigged vote on the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation in 2014. Pictured: pro-Russian supporters in Crimea celebrate the results of the 2014 vote
The 2014 vote in Crimea was not backed by the US, the EU or the Ukrainian government who all declared the ballot illegal
However, Obama responded by saying that the vote ‘will never be recognised’ by the US, and instead warned Russian against further military moves outside of Crimea.
Earlier on Sunday, the scale of Russian troop losses in Ukraine tipped 21,000 as Putin’s war rumbled into its third month.
The latest statistics, published by the Ukrainian Land Forces this morning, suggest 21,800 Russian fighters have been killed amid bitter resistance from Ukraine’s armed forces and territorial defence units – though this figure could not be verified.
Meanwhile, the land forces claim to have dealt massive damage to Russia’s military equipment and machinery.
A total of 873 tanks are said to have been destroyed, along with 2238 armoured vehicles, 179 planes, 154 helicopters and 408 artillery systems.
Putin’s forces rolled across the border on February 24 from the north, east and south, and quickly made a beeline for Kyiv.
But they were forced to withdraw from the outskirts of the capital in late March and refocus their efforts on a targeted offensive in the eastern Donbas region after Ukraine successfully repelled their advances, inflicting heavy losses.
The wreckage of a downed Russian helicopter lies in a field near Kharkiv on April 16, 2022
Russia’s vast troop losses have been put down to poor tactical decisions by Russian military leaders and a considerable underestimation of the capabilities of Ukraine’s armed forces.
At the start of the war, Russia’s military dwarfed that of Ukraine and led many to believe that the invasion would be swift and effective.
On February 24, Russia’s land army consisted of 280,000 full-time active soldiers compared with Ukraine’s 125,600.
But the amount of Russian soldiers needed to seize the whole country and control the entire population would be close to 1 million, according to Michael Clarke, a visiting professor in King’s College London’s department of war studies – suggesting the Kremlin woefully underestimated the amount of force needed to force its neighbours into submission.
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