Russian state TV claims Ukraine war a 'rehearsal for possible war with Nato'
Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine is a "rehearsal" for a larger fight with Nato, a Russian commenter has claimed on state television.
The Russian president ordered the invasion on 24 February, but despite Western intelligence officials' belief that Putin expected to overwhelm Ukraine with Moscow's military might in short time, almost three months has now passed.
The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed the offensive is a "special military operation", claiming they want to rid the nation of "neo-Nazis".
Russian state TV is closely controlled by the Kremlin and is often used as a means to circulate Moscow-backed propaganda to shape public perception.
During a recent panel discussion on the Russia-1 network, Professor Alexei Fenenko, a leading research fellow at the Institute of International Security Studies, said the invasion was a "rehearsal".
Watch: Russian columnist admits on state TV - 'The entire world is against us'
"For us, the war in Ukraine is a rehearsal. Rehearsal for a possible bigger conflict in the future," Prof Fenenko said.
"We'll test and compare Nato weapons to our own, we'll find out on the battlefield how much stronger our weapons are then theirs.
"This may be a learning experience for future conflicts."
If Prof Fenenko's comments were sanctioned, it might signal a change in approach by the Kremlin to try and re-define its military objectives to make the operation appear more successful than it has been.
Retired US general Barry R McCaffery described the claim as "astonishing".
He tweeted: "The economic and conventional military power of NATO/EU is multiple times that of Russia.
"A rehearsal for a war with NATO against a much smaller adversary in Ukraine that’s going very badly for Russia."
The unified stance of Nato has been a key element in the devastating response to Russia, including billions of pounds in aid and military support plus swingeing sanctions targeting many of Moscow's most powerful figures.
Sweden and Finland have since applied to join the alliance.
On Monday, Putin claimed Russia had no issue with Finland and Sweden, but that the expansion of military infrastructure on their territory would demand a reaction from Moscow.
How is the war going for Russia?
Russia has seized two cities, Kherson and Mariupol, but outside of that their gains have been limited.
Earlier this week Ukrainian authorities claimed Putin's forces had been pushed back from the second-largest city of Kharkiv.
According to the UK's Ministry of Defence, Russian commanders are reportedly "under pressure" to meet Putin's demands, meaning troops will "probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation".
Early in the offensive, Russia tried to take over the capital of Kyiv, and despite managing to gain control over surrounding suburbs, were pushed out of the north altogether by Ukrainian Defence Forces.
Moscow instead launched a fresh offensive in the Donbas in the South-east, something which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said has left the area "completely destroyed."
Russia's most significant military victory to date has been the capture of the now-flattened southern city of Mariupol following weeks of heavy bombardment.
In an address on Thursday night, he said: "The occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. It is hell there – and that is not an exaggeration."
He added that 12 people were killed in the “brutal and absolutely senseless bombardment” of the city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region.
“[There are] constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine. The Donbas is completely destroyed,” he said.
“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible, to destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible.”
Nato deputy secretary-general Mircea Geoana said earlier this week the Ukrainians were now in a position to defeat the Russians and win the war.
As of the morning of 20 May, Ukrainian defence authorities estimated 28,700 Russian troops have so far been killed in the invasion.
British military intelligence also said Russia may have lost a third of the invasion force it sent into Ukraine.