Russia says it plans ‘full control’ of Donbas and southern Ukraine
Russia is seeking “full control” over the Donbas region and southern Ukraine as part of “the second phase” of its invasion, according to a senior Russian military official.
Rustam Minnekayev, the deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, said Friday that control over Donbas “will enable us to establish a ground corridor to Crimea and to gain influence over the vitally important Ukrainian [military] facilities, the Black Sea ports, which service deliveries of the agricultural and metallurgical products to other countries.”
Crimea was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
The statement was made the day after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that the southern city of Mariupol, perched on the Sea of Azov, had been seized by Russian troops after weeks of heavy fighting.
The only pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the city remains at the Azovstal steel plant, where hundreds of civilians and Ukrainian troops have been trapped.
During the meeting with Shoigu, Putin ordered the Russian military to cancel plans to storm the plant, adding that Azovstal should be securely blockaded instead. “Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can escape,” Putin was reported as saying.
Minnekayev also said that control over the south of Ukraine would allow Russian troops to get better access to Transnistria, the breakaway region of Moldova, “where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed,” Russian state news agency TASS quoted Minnekayev as saying.
Transnistria’s capital, Tiraspol, is located some 100 kilometers to the northwest of the Ukrainian seaport of Odesa.
After the launch of the invasion of Ukraine in February, Russian troops reached towns on the outskirts of Kyiv within days. However, after suffering heavy losses as a result of the hit-and-run tactics of Ukrainian troops whilst also being unable to secure constant supplies of fuel and food, Russian forces have failed to encircle the capital city.
In early April, Moscow completed the withdrawal of its troops stationed around Kyiv and from northern regions of Ukraine. On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “it can now be stated that Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time.”
“A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive,” he said.