By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s defence minister told officials on Tuesday that Ukraine’s ability to fight had been “almost exhausted” and said the war had exposed vulnerabilities in Western weapons systems that Moscow would soon share.
The war has sown devastation across swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine, killed or injured hundreds of thousands and triggered the biggest rupture in Russia’s ties with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of war crimes and cast Moscow’s invasion as an imperial-style land grab. The Kremlin casts the conflict as an existential battle with a hostile West which it says wants to tear Russia apart.
Speaking to a security conference in Moscow attended by China’s defence minister, Li Shangfu, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, 68, said the conflict had been a serious test for Russia.
“In the special military operation, the Russian army has debunked many myths about the superiority of Western military standards,” Shoigu said in a rare public speech, according to a text supplied by his ministry.
“The preliminary results of combat operations show that Ukraine’s military resources are almost exhausted,” said Shoigu, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most powerful allies. He did not give detailed evidence to back up either statement.
Reuters was refused accreditation to attend the security conference by the defence ministry. No reason was given.
The West casts the war as Moscow’s biggest strategic blunder since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Western leaders say they want to defeat Russia on the battlefields of Ukraine. A Ukrainian counteroffensive has so far failed to yield major territorial success.
Russia says it will achieve all its aims in Ukraine, which it casts as a puppet of the West. It has repeatedly indicated it is prepared to fight a long war and has put swathes of its $2 trillion economy on a war footing.
Shoigu said he would share details about the weaknesses of Western weapons and that none were invulnerable.
“We have data on … the destruction of German tanks, American armoured vehicles, British missiles and other weapons systems,” he said. “We are ready to share our assessments … with our partners.”
Shoigu accused Ukraine of repeatedly using civilian infrastructure to hide soldiers and heavy military equipment and that Kyiv had shelled civilian settlements in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine, he said, had used the Black Sea grain deal as a cover for building up stores of weapons and munitions in Odesa and other ports. Ukraine has repeatedly denied using civilian infrastructure for military purposes and denies any targeting of civilians.
In remarks aimed at China, Shoigu said the West was intentionally stoking the situation around Taiwan, comparing the situation to the Ukraine war.
“Under these conditions, bilateral relations between Russia and China have surpassed the level of strategic ties in all respects, becoming more than just allied,” Shoigu said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Conor Humphries)