Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region aims to create a buffer zone but he has no plans to capture the city.

Speaking to reporters on Friday on a visit to Harbin, China, Mr Putin said that Moscow launched attacks in the Kharkiv region in response to the Ukrainian shelling of Russia’s Belgorod region.

“I have said publicly that if it continues we will be forced to create a security zone, a sanitary zone,” he said.

Mr Putin said Russian troops were “advancing daily in according to plan”.

He added that Russia has no plans to capture Kharkiv for now.

It came as Ukraine announced it will allow prisoners to join the army’s depleted ranks and approved a fivefold increase in fines for draft dodgers.

By starting the new offensive, Russian troops “expanded the zone of active hostilities by almost 70 kilometres” (about 45 miles), in an effort to force Ukraine to spread its forces and use reserve troops, Ukraine’s military chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Friday.

In the Kharkiv region, Russian forces have advanced 10 kilometres from the border, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters on Friday.

Mr Putin’s comments on his trip to China were his first on the offensive launched on May 10, which opened a new front in the war and displaced thousands of Ukrainians within few days.

China Russia
Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, left, visit the Russian-Chinese EXPO in Harbin, in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province, on Friday (Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

It came hours after a massive Ukrainian drone attack on Russian-occupied Crimea early on Friday caused power cutoffs in the city of Sevastopol while damaging aircraft and fuel storage at an airbase.

In southern Russia, Russian authorities said the attack also set a refinery ablaze.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed two laws on Friday, one to enable prisoners to join the army and another that increases fines for draft dodgers by five times, one day before a controversial mobilisation law goes into effect.

The legislation permitting prisoners to be enlisted allows “parole from serving a sentence and further enlistment for military service under a contract during a special period” for certain categories of people charged with criminal offences.

It does not include those convicted of crimes against Ukraine’s national security.

The updated legislation sets fines of up to 25,500 hryvnias (£513) for common citizens and 51,000 hryvnias (£1,026) for civil servants and legal entities for ignoring a draft notice or failing to update personal information with the military draft board in a timely manner.

Previously, the administrative fines for avoiding mobilisation during “special period” constituted up to 5100 hryvnias (£102) for common citizens and 8500 hryvnias (£170) for civil servants and legal entities.