New Delhi, April 20: Russia said on Tuesday that it has started a new stage of its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine and intends to “completely liberate” the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
The announcement was made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had stated during his overnight video address that the “battle for Donbas” had begun.
“It can now be stated that Russian troops have begun the battle for 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,” said Zelenskyy.
Analysts told Russian newspaper Izvestia that the second phase of the military operation will focus on an attack on the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) grouping in the Donbas and “air superiority” will play an important role in it.
The contested territories of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, colloquially referred to as Donbas, have been at the centre of conflict between the two countries for a long time now. In his address just three days before the launch of operation in Ukraine on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin had accused the “Kiev strategists” of running a “terrorist underground movement” in the region “with the assistance of the international community on favourable terms for Ukraine”.
In Moscow, at a meeting of the Russian Defence Ministry held at the National Defence Control Centre on Tuesday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the country’s army is “fulfilling the tasks” set by Putin.
“The plan for the liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics is being consistently implemented, and measures are being taken to establish a peaceful life,” the minister said.
Praising the courage and heroism of the Russian servicemen participating in the operation, Shoigu accused the United States and “controlled Western countries” of “doing everything to delay” the operation as much as possible.
“The growing volumes of supplies of foreign weapons clearly demonstrate their intentions to provoke the Kiev regime to fight to the last Ukrainian,” he added.
Russia also said on Tuesday that it has “reliable information” about the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) “preparing another provocation” to accuse the servicemen of the Russian Federation “of so-called war crimes with the mass destruction of civilians” in the Odessa region.
Releasing an “emergency statement” of the Joint Coordination Headquarters for Humanitarian Response in Ukraine, Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of Russia’s National Centre for Defence Control, issued a warning to “the countries of the civilized West led by the United States” in advance that the Kremlin has an “operational evidence base” about what is being planned by the Kiev regime.
“To this end, in the near future it is planned to dress one of the SSU units in the uniform of Russian servicemen and make a demonstrative shooting of local residents. Photo and video footage of this action with alleged ‘Russian atrocities’ will be published by Ukrainian and Western news agencies to immediately promote fakes,” Mizintsev said on Tuesday.
He also called on the “militants of nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries” holed up in the Azovstal metallurgical plant in the devastated port city of Mariupol to cease any hostilities and lay down their arms.
“Once again, we call on the official authorities of Kiev to show prudence, to give appropriate instructions to the militants about ending senseless resistance and leaving the hotbed of resistance. However, realising that they will not receive such orders and commands from the Kiev authorities, we urge them to make such a decision on their own and lay down their arms,” said Mizintsev, adding that all those who lay down their weapons are “guaranteed the preservation of life”.
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