Defence Secretary Ben Wallace arrived in Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian officials on Wednesday morning. Wallace is expected to discuss the UK’s supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

In his unannounced meeting with his counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, Wallace is also expected to discuss Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.

The visit comes as the MoD stated on Wednesday that thousands of Russian soldiers have now gone AWOL since the start of the war.

In its latest update on Ukraine, it said: “Reliable research conducted by independent journalists in Russia indicates that there has been a significant increase in cases of military personnel going absent without leave (AWOL) between January and May 2023, surpassing the total number of such cases in 2022.

“The Russian military has encountered challenges in maintaining discipline within its ranks during its operations in Ukraine, and these difficulties have likely intensified following the compulsory mobilization of reservists since October 2022.

“Data from military courts reveals that a majority of those found guilty of going AWOL are currently receiving suspended sentences, allowing them to be redeployed for the ‘special military operation’.

“Rather than addressing the underlying causes of soldiers’ disillusionment, Russia’s efforts to enhance discipline have primarily focused on setting deterrent examples and fostering patriotic fervour.”

On Tuesday, Russia’s military announced that it had successfully suppressed what appeared to be one of the most significant cross-border assaults from Ukraine since the start of the war.

They claimed to have eliminated more than 70 assailants during a 24-hour-long battle.

According to Moscow, the attack, which commenced on Monday, was carried out by Ukrainian military saboteurs. On the other hand, Kyiv portrayed it as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans. The conflicting narratives make it difficult to determine the true culprits behind the attack or discern its specific objectives.

The engagement occurred in the Belgorod region of southwest Russia, situated approximately 80km (45miles) north of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. This incident serves as a fresh reminder of Russia’s vulnerability to attacks, as well as the vulnerable Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

The Belgorod region serves as a crucial military hub for Russia, housing fuel and ammunition depots. It was included in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s directive last year to enhance readiness for potential attacks and strengthen defences.

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Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to provide details regarding the number of attackers involved in the assault or offer any explanation for the extended duration it took to quell the attackers.

Such incursions across the border pose a challenge to the Kremlin and underscore the difficulties it faces in its ongoing military campaign in Ukraine.

The Belgorod region, along with neighbouring areas like Bryansk, has experienced intermittent spillover effects from the war initiated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Despite being distant from the main front line, which stretches more than 1,500km (932miles) in southern and eastern Ukraine, Russian border towns and villages frequently face shelling and drone attacks.

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