Shoigu was filmed talking with soldiers
Shoigu was filmed talking with soldiers hearing reports from senior officers AFP

Russia claimed Wednesday it was exhausting Ukraine's army, 20 months into a conflict in which neither side has made recent significant gains.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made the comments during a visit to east Ukraine, the defence ministry said Wednesday.

"The situation today suggests the enemy has fewer and fewer opportunities. And they will continue to be reduced, thanks exclusively to your combat work," Shoigu told Russian soldiers.

He was also filmed smiling and laughing when a Russian soldier told him Ukrainian troops were "in a panic".

It has been months since either Russia or Ukraine made a significant territorial gain in the 20-month conflict, as losses continue to mount. Analysts say the conflict is approaching a winter stalemate.

The defence ministry did not say when Shoigu's visit to Russia's "Vostok" -- or East -- command post took place.

In a rare admission, it also quoted soldiers telling Shoigu that heavy Ukrainian artillery fire was having an effect.

"The enemy's artillery is causing a lot of problems. We are taking measures," the soldiers were quoted as saying.

The defence minister has faced criticism inside Russia for Moscow's failure to make more significant gains during its assault on Ukraine.

Russian forces have recently stepped up their attacks on the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, but have failed to make any significant advances.

It has suffered a string of manpower and equipment losses in its attempt to seize the city -- which has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance -- according to Kyiv and independent military analysts.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday his troops were facing "heavy, tough battles" around Avdiivka, but were "holding their positions".

News of Shoigu's visit comes a day after Zelensky said Kyiv had managed to disrupt Russian attacks from the Black Sea and the annexed peninsula of Crimea.

"The Russian fleet is no longer capable of operating in the western part of the Black Sea and is gradually fleeing Crimea. This is a historic achievement," Zelensky told a diplomatic summit Tuesday.