KYIV – The “Battle of the Donbas” remains Russia’s main strategic focus in Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Friday, but it has suffered significant losses for limited territorial gains.
Russia withdrew its forces outside Kiev last month after failing to capture the capital in the initial stages of its invasion on February 24, launching a massive attack in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Moscow considers winning the “Battle of the Donbas” crucial if it is to achieve its stated goal of securing control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Britain’s defense ministry said.
“The fighting has been particularly fierce around Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, with an attempt to advance south from Izium towards Slovyansk,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Due to strong Ukrainian opposition, Russian territorial gains have been limited and achieved at significant cost, the ministry added in the regular bulletin. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.
Some of the fiercest fighting and bombing has taken place in the southern and eastern part of Ukraine, with the southern port of Mariupol under siege for several months and in ruins. Its remaining residents and Ukrainian forces are buried underground in Azovstal steelworks.
Conquering Mariupol will connect pro-Russian separatist territory with the Crimean region, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Mariupol City Council has said about 100,000 of the city’s residents were “in danger” due to Russian shelling and unhygienic conditions. It said the lack of drinking water and food was “catastrophic”.
A Ukrainian presidential adviser said this week that Russia hit the Azovstal steelworks with bunker-buster bombs. Reuters could not confirm the details.
Ukrainian commanders at Azovstal have promised not to surrender.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Friday that Russia was shelling Ukrainian positions along the line of contact in the south and east to prevent them from regrouping. It said Azovstal remained cut off.
KYIV STILL VULNERABLE
Two Russian missiles hit Kiev during a visit by the UN chief on Thursday, Ukrainian officials said, highlighting concerns that the capital remains vulnerable.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the explosions “prove that we must not drop our vigilance. We must not believe that the war is over.”
Moscow’s attacks in the east on Thursday gave new US promises of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
After listening to repeated Ukrainian prayers for heavier weapons, US President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., asked Congress for $ 33 billion to support Kiev, a massive jump in funding that includes over $ 20 billion for weapons, ammunition and other military aid.
“We need this bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom,” Mr Biden said. “The cost of this fight – it’s not cheap – but it will be more expensive to interrupt aggression.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls Moscow’s actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine, defend Russian-speaking people from persecution and prevent the United States from using the country to threaten Russia.
Ukraine rejects Mr Putin’s allegations of persecution, saying it is fighting an imperial-style landfill that has flattened Ukrainian cities, forced more than 5 million to flee abroad and killed thousands since the invasion began on 24 February.
Washington, which along with its allies has imposed extensive sanctions on Moscow, hopes that Ukrainian forces can not only repel Russia’s attacks in the east, but also weaken its military so that it can no longer threaten neighbors.
Russia considers NATO’s actions tantamount to waging a “proxy war” against it, and this week made a series of threats of unspecified retaliation.
It cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday after refusing to pay in rubles, marking Moscow’s worst-ever response to Western economic sanctions.
Russia has reported what it says has been a series of Ukrainian attacks on Russian regions bordering Ukraine, and has warned that such attacks risk significant escalation.
Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for strikes in Russia, but says the incidents are repayment. Russia has taken precedence over statements by NATO member Britain that it is legitimate for Ukraine to target Russian logistics.
“In the West, they openly call on Kiev to attack Russia, including with the use of weapons received from NATO countries,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow.
“I do not advise you to test our patience further.”
The US mission to the OSCE Security Council said the Kremlin might seek “scam” in southern and eastern territories, which it had captured since the February 24 invasion, using “a worn book stealing from the darkest chapters in history” .
“These falsified, illegitimate referendums will no doubt be accompanied by a wave of aggression against those who seek to oppose or undermine Moscow’s plans,” the US mission said. There was no immediate Russian comment. – Natalia Zinets / Reuters