Russian President Vladimir Putin | (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Russian leader Vladimir Putin’ s next move could see him re-focus his attention to the east of Ukraine to consolidate enough land to declare a victory by May 9, an expert has told the Mirror.

Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies at University College London, said this means Putin may use any means necessary to dress up the invasion as a win in the next month.

By May 9, it is unlikely Putin will have made any headway in pushing his troops further West – especially after withdrawing his military from Kyiv and Chernobyl.

Speculating on what a ‘victory’ will look like for Putin, Prof Wilson told the Mirror: “He may have a bit more territory in the Donbas, Mariupol may have fallen by then but only because it has been destroyed and not as an asset.”

He adds Russia may keep control of enough territory north of Crimea to create a land bridge to the Donbas ‘Republics’.

Prof Wilson added: “Ukraine would be cut off from the Sea of Azov and will lose many of its ports on the Black Sea.

“This could be dressed up as a victory. Russia would have consolidated more territory than it had in 2014, but it is clearly not what Putin wanted when he started the war. “

Yesterday, Putin’s flagship Moskva missile cruise ship sunk after suffering severe damage, which Ukraine claimed was from two missile strikes.

Conflicting reports claimed two Neptune missiles sunk the ship with hundreds on board while others said the ship had a fire on board. Hours later, Moscow said the ship had sunk while it was being towed back to port.

In what appears to be a retaliation for losing a key piece of military infrastructure, Russian forces hit Kyiv with an air assault and promised more missile attacks last night.

This map from April 7 shows the eastern regions that Russia reportedly controls - and is speculated to be dressed up as a 'victory' for Putin

This week, Putin said his country’s military campaign in Ukraine will continue until its goals are fulfilled.

Putin said the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the US was using Ukraine to threaten Russia – including via the NATO military alliance – and that Moscow had to defend Russian-speaking people in Ukraine from persecution.

The President claims he had no doubts Russia would achieve all of its objectives in Ukraine – a conflict he cast as both inevitable and essential to defend Russia in the long term.

The warmongering President’s comments come as Prof Wilson said Putin is looking at May 9 – which is Russia’s Victory Day – to declare the new ‘victory’ then.

May 9 is the day that Russia observes as the end of the Second World War – which the Kremlin calls the Great Patriotic War.

Prof Wilson said: “Normally there is a massive parade in Moscow, it is a huge prestigious day so he would like to declare victory by May 9.

“Putin’s propaganda machine will depict whatever territory Russia has as a ‘victory’. The Ukrainians have proved to be exceptionally good in their defensive operations as in with their spoiler operations against Russian offensives.

“They are very good at defending urban areas.”

Putin has withdrawn his military – who are suffering from heavy losses and plummeting morale – from key regions of Kyiv and Chernobyl and international agencies have warned his next move could be launching a serious offensive in the East.

Prof Wilson has speculated three ways that Putin could try and achieve his ‘victory’.

He says he thinks Putin will focus all his attention on eastern Ukraine and he will instruct his troops to encircle Ukrainian forces by shelling more open areas such as cities.

The third speculation is Putin will try to increase his manpower, but the prof believes that doesn’t seem very likely.

He added: “Putin has lost lots of men, and their morale is poor, and there was the possibility he would keep contract troops in the field despite their contracts running out. It seems they are relying largely on the domestic draft.

“But that is a big if of how many extra troops can they put in the field? Not many. For a huge country like Russia, their army looks disappointing.”

If Russia cannot turn the tide of the unjust war in their favour, there is real fear Putin would resort to using chemical weapons on a large scale.

Prof Wilson said: “Maybe not starting with chemicals, but maybe with the urban tactics as they did against Aleppo.

“Bombing cities from outside the cities, destroying them from afar with artillery and missiles. Then continuing the brutal terrorising of civilians and populations that we’ve already seen.

“The conventional armed forces haven’t given Russia the victory that they have hoped for and there is the fear that they will use chemical weapons because they can’t win by other means.”

It comes as Britain is “working urgently” to verify reports that Russian forces may have launched a chemical attack in Ukraine, the UK Foreign Secretary has said.

Liz Truss became one of the first Western senior politicians to speak out this week as Britain warned “all options are on the table” if the use of chemical weapons is established.

It follows unconfirmed reports from the besieged port city of Mariupol, whose mayor said more than 10,000 civilians have died in weeks of fighting.