Top Putin ally says Russia’s military operation in Ukraine had been slower than expected

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February in an operation officials referred to as ‘demilitarisation’ of Ukraine

Russia continues assault on Kyiv, diplomatic talks resume

A top Russian official, considered to be a close ally of president Vladimir Putin, has said the invasion of Ukraine is not proceeding as quickly as the Kremlin wanted.

“I would like to say that yes, not everything is going as fast as we would like,” said National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov, who was once in charge of Mr Putin’s personal security, reported Reuters.

“...But we are going towards our goal step by step and victory will be for us, and this icon will protect the Russian army and accelerate our victory.”

Mr Zolotov now leads the National Guard, an internal military force that includes the riot police and other forces and answers directly to Mr Putin.

The National Guard also has forces deployed in Ukraine.

Mr Zolotov made the comments at a church service led by Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Sunday, which were then posted on the National Guard’s website.

He repeated the accusation routinely made by Russian officials that the slower than expected progress was due to far-right Ukrainian forces hiding behind civilians.

His comments come just days after Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu informed Mr Putin on Friday that “everything is going according to plan.”

On 24 February, Russia had announced what it called a full-scale military operation in Ukraine that aimed to ensure a “demilitarisation” of Ukraine, as well as to “de-Nazify” the country, according to Mr Putin who had also warned the west against any interference.

After 20 days of war, fierce fighting has continued in Ukraine, including in major cities, forcing at least 2.5 million people to flee their homes.

However, US officials have claimed Russian troops haven’t been able to progress as easily through Ukraine as they had expected.

Earlier on Monday, a senior US defence official said there were no “appreciable” change on advances on Ukrainian capital Kyiv or the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, but added that Mariupol was “isolated”.

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff, however, said on Tuesday that the country’s military had defeated Russia’s attempts to take the port city of Mariupol.

Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns also claimed Russian military deaths have been “far in excess” of what Mr Putin and his generals expected.

This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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