Jun 26, 2022
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Tuesday that his country would be initiating a new stage in the war in Ukraine.

“Another stage of this operation (in eastern Ukraine) is beginning, and I am sure this will be a very important moment of this entire special operation,” Lavrov said in an interview with the India Today TV channel.

Lavrov said Russia wanted to “fully liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk republics” — two Ukrainian separatist-held territories that lay claim to the entire Donbas.

Russia’s announcement comes after Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, stated in a late-night address on Monday that “Russian forces have started the battle for Donbas they spent so long preparing for” after concentrating a “significant part” of its forces there.

Intensifying rocket and artillery fire across the east’s front line was reported, consistent with Zelensky’s announcement. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that he intended to take over the Donbas, but the widespread invasion seems to be focused on taking larger areas. The Donbas contains much of Ukraine’s coal industry and stands between Russia and the Crimean peninsula it illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.  

In late March, Russian forces withdrew from central Ukraine after failing to take major cities, including Kyiv, the capital. The Russian air force has continued to carry out airstrikes across the country since then, while ground forces have been concentrating on eastern Ukraine, attacking Kharkiv and other cities in the northeast, while in the south, trying to seize the port of Mariupol.

On Monday evening, Russian forces began attacking the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, where the last Ukrainian troops are holding out in underground passageways. Russia’s defense ministry said it would give Ukrainian forces trapped in the plant a two-hour window on Tuesday to lay down their arms and surrender. In a post on its Telegram channel, the city said that there were also at least 1,000 civilians in the plant’s shelters, primarily women, children, and the elderly.