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Vladimir Putin’s air force ‘struggling and turning to retired personnel to bolster airman numbers’

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ladimir Putin’s air force is struggling to support his invasion of Ukraine, British military chiefs said on Friday, with Russia forced to turn to retired personnel to bolster his troops.

In its latest intelligence update, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said the capture of the pilot on June 17 – a former Major in the Russian air force who returned to action as a contractor with the Wagner Group – showed how Mr Putin’s forces were being stretched.

The MOD added that the aircraft which Ukrainian forces said was shot down – a Russian Su-25 FROGFOOT ground attack fighter jet – was likely to be an older model because the pilot was using commercial GPS devices rather than up to date Russian military navigation equipment.

In its update, the defence chiefs said: “The use of retired personnel, now working as Wagner contractors, to conduct close air support missions indicates that the Russian air force likely is struggling to support the invasion of Ukraine with sufficient aircrew.

“This is likely due to a combination of Russia’s insufficient numbers of suitably trained personnel and its combat losses.”

Friday marks four months since President Putin launched his assault on Ukraine, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two, killing thousands, uprooting millions and reducing cities to rubble.

It has also sparked a global energy and food crisis.

After abandoning his attempts to take Kyiv, Russia has focused its efforts on the eastern Donbas region but is still facing stiff resistance from Ukrainian troops.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have been waging a fierce battle for the key strategic city of Severodonetsk. In a blow for Ukraine’s forces region’s governor said on Friday that Ukrainian troops will “have to be withdrawn” from the mostly Russian-occupied battleground city.

With world leaders preparing to meet at the G7 summit in Germany at the weekend before a meeting of Nato allies in Madrid next week, there are concerns in Kyiv that Germany and France will push Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to accept a ceasefire deal that would see him concede land to Moscow.

But Boris Johnson, who is at a summit of Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda, said he was confident Ukraine could win and that it would be a “disaster” if the country was forced to accept a bad peace deal.

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