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Russia Ratchets up Battle for Control of Eastern Ukraine



Russian military vehicles move in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol, Ukraine, Monday, April 18, 2022. (AP/Alexei Alexandrov)
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After a Russian push to overrun the capital failed, the Kremlin declared that its main goal was the capture of the mostly Russian-speaking eastern Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

If successful, that offensive would give President Vladimir Putin a vital piece of Ukraine and a badly needed victory in the now 7-week-old war that he could present to the Russian people amid mounting casualties and economic hardship caused by the West’s sanctions.

Russian Victory Would Cut Ukraine in Two

It would also effectively slice Ukraine in two and deprive it of the main industrial assets concentrated in the east, including coal mines, metals plants, and machine-building factories.

Ukraine’s military said early Tuesday that a “new phase of war” began a day earlier when “the occupiers made an attempt to break through our defenses along nearly the entire front line.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “another phase of this operation is starting now.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that massive numbers of Russian troops were committed to the campaign, though some observers noted that an escalation has been underway there for some time and questioned whether this was truly the start of a new offensive.

A Ukrainian soldier defuses a mine in a minefield after recent battles in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

Will Allies Send More Weapons?

Justin Crump, a former British tank commander now with the strategic advisory company Sibylline, said the Ukrainian comments could, in part, be an attempt to persuade allies to send more weapons.

“What they’re trying to do by positioning this, I think, is … focus people’s minds and effort by saying, ‘Look, the conflict has begun in the Donbas,’” Crump said. “That partly puts pressure on NATO and EU suppliers to say, ‘Guys, we’re starting to fight now. We need this now.’”

European and American arms have been key to bolstering Ukraine’s defense, helping the under-gunned country to hold off the Russians. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Zelenskyy on Tuesday that the Netherlands would send “heavier material,” including armored vehicles.

In what appeared to be an intensification of attacks, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that air-launched missiles destroyed 13 Ukrainian troop and weapons locations, while the air force struck 60 other Ukrainian military facilities, including missile warhead storage depots.

Russian artillery hit 1,260 Ukrainian military facilities and 1,214 troops concentrations over the last 24 hours, Konashenkov said Tuesday. The claims could not be independently verified.

The assaults began Monday along a front that stretches more than 300 miles from northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southeast.

Russia said it struck several areas with missiles, including the northeastern city of Kharkiv as well as areas around Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro west of the Donbas.

Associated Press journalists in Kharkiv said at least four people were killed and three wounded in a Russian attack on a residential area of the city, which is near the front lines and has faced repeated shelling. The attack occurred as residents attempted Tuesday to maintain a sense of normalcy, with municipal workers planting spring flowers in public areas.

Damaged and burned vehicles are seen at a destroyed part of the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant, as smoke rises from the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal during heavy fighting, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Monday, April 18, 2022. Mariupol, a strategic port on the Sea of Azov, has been besieged by Russian troops and forces from self-proclaimed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine for more than six weeks. (AP/Alexei Alexandrov)

Russians Take Control of a Town in the Donbas

An explosion also rocked the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, killing at least one person and wounding three, according to AP journalists at the scene.

Eyewitness accounts and reports from officials have given a broad picture of the extent of the Russian advance. But independent reporting in the parts of the Donbas held by Russian forces and separatists is severely limited, making it difficult to know what is happening in many places on the ground.

Moscow’s troops seized control of one town in the Donbas on Monday, according to Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, said that the defensive line had held elsewhere.

The breakthrough in Kreminna takes the Russians one small step closer to their apparent goal of encircling Ukrainian troops in the region.

Czechs Will Repair Ukraine’s Military Equipment

PRAGUE — The Czech Defense Ministry says local companies will work to repair Ukrainian military equipment damaged in fighting the invading Russian military.

The ministry says the first contract will focus on fixing T-64 Soviet-era tanks. Various armored vehicles of BRD and BRDM types will follow.

The ministry says the Czech Republic was the first partner country officially approached by Ukraine with such a request.

British Official Says War’s Next Phase Will Last Several Months

LONDON — British officials say the next phase of the war in Ukraine is likely to be “an attritional conflict” that could last several months.

A senior U.K. national security official briefed the Cabinet on Tuesday, as Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of the eastern Donbas region.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the official told ministers that Russia’s greater number of troops was “unlikely to be decisive on its own” against fierce Ukrainian resistance.

The official told Cabinet that there are signs Russia has not learned the lessons from previous setbacks in northern Ukraine, with evidence of troops being committed to the fight in a “piecemeal fashion” and some soldiers and units refusing to fight.

Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the prime minister had told Cabinet that Ukraine’s position remained “perilous,” with Russian President Vladimir Putin “angered by defeats but determined to claim some sort of victory regardless of the human cost.”

Turkey Hopes Talks Will End the Conflict

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says he plans to speak with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts as part of Turkey’s efforts to halt the conflict.

Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey was also talking to P5 nations — the United States, China, France, Russia, and the U.K. — and other countries about possible security guarantees for Ukraine, adding that Kyiv’s request for guarantees similar to Article 5 of the NATO treaty hadn’t found support, especially among Western countries.

“If there can be no guarantees (similar to) NATO’s Article 5, then what options are there? We are taking care of such these details,” Cavusoglu said. “We must be prepared for the possibility of a cease-fire.”

He was speaking during a joint news conference with Hungary’s foreign minister in Ankara.

NATO-member Turkey, which has maintained its close ties to both Russia and Ukraine, has hosted a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers as well as talks between the two negotiating teams last month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said he hopes to bring the Russian and Ukrainian leaders to the negotiating table.




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