Media reports say intense fighting continued around the Ukrainian-controlled town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donbas on Saturday.  The area has reportedly seen heavy clashes between Ukrainian and Russian troops for months, as Russia seeks to fully seize the region.  Moscow hopes to use Bakhmut as a staging ground to launch attacks on the Ukrainian-held cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk further west.

The BBC says Putin spent most of Friday at the headquarters of the "special military operation" discussing ideas for what Russia's next move should be.

It reportedly comes as some Ukrainian military officials claimed Russia was planning an offensive, perhaps early next year.

Russian attacks on Ukraine's power grid have plunged millions into darkness.

The BBC says footage from Friday's meeting showed Putin flanked by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Armed Forces Chief Valeriy Gerasimov.

S. Shoigu (L) and V. Gerasimov; photo / the BBC / EPA.

General Gerasimov's presence ends rumors circulating online that he had been dismissed from his position. According to the BBC, Gerasimov has been the target of intensive criticism “from hawkish commentators, who have accused him of being too cautious.”

Air Force general Sergei Surovikin - who was appointed as Russia's commander in Ukraine in October - was also present at the meeting.

The collapse of Moscow's forces in eastern Ukraine earlier this year reportedly saw military bosses come in for sustained criticism from pro-Kremlin media figures.

The BBC cited the commander of Ukraine's military General Valerii Zaluzhnyi as saying that the meeting followed claims by that Moscow could seek to launch a new offensive in early 2023. He warned that Russia was preparing around 200,000 troops for the attack.

In a separate development, President Putin is due to visit Belarus today, amid media reports that he will be putting further pressure on Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally, to officially join in Russia's war effort and send troops to Ukraine.

Since the start of the war, Russian troops have been using Belarusian territory as a launchpad - but Lukashenko has so far resisted all Moscow's attempts to deploy his armed forces in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited frontline troops in Ukraine.  In a statement posted to Telegram, the defense ministry said Shoigu “flew around the areas of deployment of troops and checked the advanced positions of Russian units in the zone of the special military operation.”  The ministry added that he “spoke with troops on the front line” and at a “command post.”

The BBC reports that commenting on Shoigu's reported visit, Ukraine's military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi told Ukrainian TV channels: “I don't really believe that he is so brave” to travel to the battlefield.

This reportedly comes as UK defense officials said low morale continues to be a “significant vulnerability across much of the Russian force.”