Ukraine says attacks will come ‘deeper and deeper’ into Russia – as Putin faces pressure over troop deaths

Russia should expect strikes "deeper and deeper" into the territory it controls, as pressure ramps on Moscow's military leaders in the wake of a Ukrainian missile strike that killed scores of conscripts and the defence ministry has blamed on the use of mobile phones by its soldiers.

Raising the death toll from the strike in the Russian-held eastern Ukrainian town of Makiivka from 63 to 89 on Wednesday, the Defence Ministry claimed that the "illegal" use of mobile phones was the main factor in the attack. “This factor allowed the enemy to track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers’ location for a missile strike,” the ministry said – despite an investigation into the incident still going on. It is the highest death toll in a single incident that Moscow has acknowledged since it started the invasion of Ukraine last February. Kyiv has claimed that up to 400 conscripts died in the attack.

As might be expected, the claim has not gone down well with the relatives of those killed in the attack, with popular military bloggers in Russia also swift in their criticism of the statement. Semyon Pegov, a war correspondent decorated by Putin, said on Telegram the mobile phone explanation "looks like an outright attempt to smear" while Vladlen Tatarsky, a well-known blogger, accused Russian generals of "demonstrating their own stupidity and misunderstanding of what's going on [among] the troops, where everyone has cellphones."

Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine's military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, has said that there will likely be further strikes – without saying that Kyiv would be behind them. He told ABC News that the attacks would come "deeper and deeper" inside of Russia, but would only be able to comment on his country's responsibility for the attacks after the war was over. When asked specifically about Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, Mr Budanov said, "Crimea is Ukrainian territory, we can use any weapon on our territory."

Russia's Engels air force base, which is located hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border, was hit on 26 December, an attack which Kyiv has not claimed, but Mr Budanov said he was "glad to see".

The war has become one of attrition. Heavy fighting around theruined, Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, for example, is likely to persist for the foreseeable future – with the outcome uncertain as Russians have made incremental progress, according to a US administration official. Ukraine's military also said Russian forces continued to concentrate on advancing near Bakhmut.

In its daily update, Ukraine's General Staff said that Russia had launched seven missile strikes, 18 air strikes and more than 85 attacks from multiple-launch rocket systems in the past 24 hours on civilian infrastructure in the cities of Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

In Moscow, a sign that Russia's President Vladimir Putin was trying to move events on from the attack on Makiivka, he sent a frigate to the Atlantic Ocean armed with new generation hypersonic cruise missiles on Wednesday. In a video conference with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Mr Putin said the ship was armed with Zircon hypersonic weapons. "This time the ship is equipped with the latest hypersonic missile system - 'Zircon'," Mr Putin said. "I am sure that such powerful weapons will reliably protect Russia from potential external threats."

The weapons, Mr Putin claimed, had "no analogues in any country in the world".

In Kyiv, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was planning to call up more troops for a major new offensive, something he has been talking about for weeks. "We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can round up to try to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat," Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address late on Tuesday. "We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this," he added.

Mr Zelensky has also been calling for more military support from Western countries and French officials said that French President Emmanuel Macron has told Mr Zelensky that paris would send light AMX-10 RC armoured combat vehicles to help in the war against Russia.

"This is the first time that Western-made armoured vehicles are being delivered in support of the Ukrainian army," the official told reporters, after a call between Mr Macron and Mr Zelensky. The official did not give any details about the volume or timing of the planned shipments.

In a statement posted on Telegram, Mr Zelensky thanked Mr Macron for the decision and said the two leaders had "agreed on further cooperation to significantly strengthen our air defence and other defence capabilities".

Reuters contributed to this report