The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, April 21. Click here for updates from April 20.
Mariupol Mayor Says Lives of City’s Trapped Residents Are in Putin’s Hands
Russian President Vladimir Putin alone can decide the fate of the 100,000 civilians still trapped in Ukraine‘s war-torn Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boichenko told Reuters on Thursday, saying that satellite images of a mass grave site were proof Russians were burying bodies to try to hide the death toll.
Earlier Putin claimed victory in the battle for Mariupol after nearly two months of siege that has led to the most intense battles of the war and its worst humanitarian catastrophe. Under heavy bombardment, citizens who did not flee have suffered without electricity, heating, or water.
“It’s important to understand that the lives that are still there, they are in the hands of just one person—Vladimir Putin. And all the deaths that will happen after now will be on his hands too,” Boichenko said in an interview.
Putin on Thursday said Russian troops had “liberated” Mariupol, which would make it the biggest city to fall into Russian hands since the start of what Moscow calls a “special military operation.” Russia denies targeting civilians.
“There were no plans to liberate the city. It was a plan of destruction,” Boichenko said. He estimated that 90 percent of the southeastern port city had been damaged or destroyed since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
“Today at all levels, we only talk about one thing—that we need a ceasefire, we need a full evacuation of the 100,000 Mariupol residents who are prisoners of Russian forces and we need to free all the people who are at Azovstal.”
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Urges World to Send More Heavy Weapons
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday his war-ravaged country needed more heavy weapons to defend itself from Russia’s invasion that threatened Ukraine’s very survival, and he asked Western nations to impose further sanctions.
“In 57 days of war, more than 1,000 Ukrainian towns were occupied by invaders who continue to destroy our cities,” he said. “Millions of people had to flee … it is as if the whole of Portugal was forced to leave.”
He said the Russian army had committed atrocities, including in the port city of Mariupol, which has faced heavy bombardment.
“We are fighting not only for our independence, but for our survival, for our people so that they do not get killed, tortured and raped,” Zelenskyy said. “The Russians have already kidnapped more than 500,000 people … who were deported to the most distant regions of Russia, in remote camps.”
Moscow, which describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation,” denies targeting civilians and rejects what Ukraine says is evidence of atrocities, saying Kyiv has staged them to undermine peace talks.
The Ukrainian president asked Portugal to support a global embargo on Russian oil and to back Kyiv’s desire to join the European Union.
Shortly after Zelenskiy‘s speech, Portuguese parliament president Augusto Santos Silva said: “Your country’s fight for freedom is Europe’s fight for freedom.”
European Council President Charles Michel said on Wednesday the EU would look for more ways to respond to Russia’s invasion.
Russia Sanctions Mark Zuckerberg, Kamala Harris, and 27 More US Citizens
Responding to U.S. sanctions against Russian government officials and their family members, Moscow has sanctioned 29 U.S. citizens, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Vice President Kamala Harris. They are banned from entering Russia indefinitely.
The “executives, businessmen, experts and journalists who shape the Russophobic agenda, as well as the spouses of a number of high-ranking officials” are being banned in response to anti-Russian sanctions affecting families of officials, scientists, as well as cultural and business figures, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
In addition to Zuckerberg, Moscow has blacklisted LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky, as well as the presidents and CEOs of military industry giants Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, L3 Harris Technologies, Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries and drone-maker AeroVironment have also been sanctioned. The director of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies and the president of the Bank of America were also on the blacklist.
Moscow also sanctioned U.S. politicians and their spouses, starting with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klein, State Department spokesman Ned Price, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Christopher W. Grady, and the deputy health secretary listed as “Richard/Rachel Levine.”
Russian sanctions also named Evan Ryan, spouse of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Margaret Goodlander, wife of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Both hold posts in the Biden administration, Ryan as the White House cabinet secretary and Goodlander as an adviser to the Justice Department. Robert Kagan, husband of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, rounds off the sanctioned spouses list.
Bringing up the rear are media personalities the Foreign Ministry accused of “shaping the Russophobic agenda.” These include ABC host George Stephanopoulos, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, CNN analyst Bianna Golodryga, as well as “Meduza” editor Kevin Rothrock, along with two experts from the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center think tanks.
Further sanctions announcements can be expected in the near future as countermeasures against the hostile actions of U.S. authorities, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Russia has already sanctioned Blinken, Sullivan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, CIA Director William Burns, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, as well as President Joe Biden himself, and his son Hunter. They were put on Moscow’s blacklist in mid-March, in response to U.S. sanctions.
Djokovic Condemns Wimbledon Ban on Russian, Belarusian Players
Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic said Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is “crazy.”
Wimbledon announced on Wednesday that it had barred all Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s championships due to the invasion, which Russia calls a “special operation.”
The grasscourt Grand Slam is the first tennis tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries, meaning men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev from Russia and women’s fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be banned from the June 27–July 10 tournament.
Djokovic, who grew up in war-torn Serbia, said the athletes had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict.
“I will always condemn war, I will never support war being myself a child of war,” Djokovic told reporters at the Serbia Open, an ATP 250 event in Belgrade.
“I know how much emotional trauma it leaves. In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans we have had many wars in recent history.
“However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon, I think it is crazy.
“When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good.”
The All England Lawn Tennis Club’s (AELTC) decision has been criticized by the ATP and WTA tours.
The move is the first time players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War II era when German and Japanese players were excluded.
The AELTC said it would “consider and respond accordingly” if circumstances change between now and June.
Biden Announces Another $800 Million in Military Assistance for Ukraine
President Joe Biden says he is sending another $800 million in weapons and ammunition to Ukraine in the coming days, calling it the “frontlines of freedom” as it defends itself against a Russian invasion.
This $800 million arms package raises to $3.4 billion the amount of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine since Russia began its invasion Feb. 24.
Biden says he will ask Congress next week to approve billions more dollars in aid for Ukraine because the assistance package passed last month is now “almost exhausted.” He said officials were still sorting out the appropriate amount to request.
Biden said the United States has “the capacity to do this for a long time” as it ships arms to Ukraine, but must work harder to maintain international pressure on Russia in retaliation for its invasion.
Biden said despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims, “There is no evidence yet that Mariupol is completely fallen.” Ukrainian forces and civilians are encircled in a massive steel plant in the city and Biden called on Russia to provide humanitarian corridors so that civilians may flee safely.
US Bans Russian Ships
Washington will follow the lead of the European Union and ban all Russian-affiliated ships from docking at U.S. ports, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday. This applies to all vessels flying the Russian flag, owned, or operated by Russian entities.
“No ship, no ship that sails under the Russian flag, or that is owned or operated by a Russian interest, will be allowed to dock in a U.S. port or access our shores. None,” Biden said on Thursday morning at the White House, after meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister.
The EU banned Russian ships from its ports on April 6. Biden said the move intends to “deny Russia the benefits of [the] international economic system that they so enjoyed in the past.”
Pentagon Backtracks on Claim of Aircraft Supplies to Ukraine
No nation has sent any fighter jets to Ukraine, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby admitted on Wednesday as he apologized for having created a false “impression” and retracting an earlier statement from the U.S. Defense Department on arms supplies to Kyiv.
“I was mistaken,” Kirby said, adding that, although he did not say that “Ukraine had received ‘whole aircraft’,” that was “the impression that I gave you.” The spokesman has explained that he himself got a misguided impression about another nation following through with its offer to provide Ukraine with “whole fixed-wing aircraft.”
“It has not. So, I was in error in saying that, in past tense, they had been given whole aircraft. I regret the error,” Kirby added.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon spokesman told journalists that Ukrainian troops “have received additional aircraft and aircraft parts to help them … get more aircraft in the air.” He did specify at the time, though, that the United States only helped with shipping certain spare parts and did not transport “the whole aircraft.”
“Other nations who have experience with those kinds of aircraft have been able to help them get more aircraft up and running,” Kirby added.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon spokesman explained that Ukraine has just been provided with “enough spare parts and additional equipment” through “United States coordination and provision.” These deliveries have helped Kyiv to “increase their fleet by quite a number,” he has added.
Ukraine Threatens Attack on Crimean Bridge
Russia has responded to recent threats by Ukraine’s armed forces about a potential strike on the Crimean Bridge, which connects the peninsula to the rest of the country.
“Such statements are nothing less than the announcement of a possible terrorist act,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday. “This is unacceptable. There are many signs here of deeds that are subject to legal verification and subsequent punishment.”
It comes after Alexey Danilov, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, stated on Wednesday that if Kyiv had the chance, it would have struck the Crimean Bridge long ago and that its armed forces would do it now if possible.
“If we had the opportunity to do this, we would have done it already. If there is an opportunity to do this, we will definitely do it,” said Danilov in an interview with Radio NV, when asked if Ukraine could strike the Crimean Bridge, since it is being used to send reinforcements.
Former Russian president and current head of the National Security Council Dmitriy Medvedev also replied to the threat by writing in his Telegram channel that “One of the hard-nosed Ukrainian chiefs spoke of the need to strike at the Crimean Bridge. I hope he understands what will be the retaliatory target.”
US to Take Ukraine Refugees, Not via Mexico
The Biden administration is making it easier for refugees fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine to come to the United States from Europe while trying to shut down an informal route through northern Mexico that has emerged in recent weeks.
A program announced Thursday will streamline refugee applications for Ukrainians and others fleeing the fighting. But it will no longer routinely grant entry to those who show up at the U.S.–Mexico border seeking asylum, as thousands have done since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began almost two months ago.
The United States says it expects to admit up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine and about 15,000 have come since the Feb. 24 invasion, mostly through Mexico. Officials said, starting Monday, that route will no longer be an option except in extreme circumstances.
Denmark PM Pledges More Weapons to Ukraine in a Visit to Kyiv
Denmark’s prime minister has announced during a visit to Kyiv that her country will more than double the amount it has given to Ukraine to buy weapons.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Thursday that Denmark will donate 600 million kroner ($87.4 million). Standing alongside Spanish counterpart Pedro Sánchez and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, she called it a “new, significant contribution.”
Frederiksen said the total Danish military contribution is now 1 billion kroner. Denmark also will assist Ukraine in clearing mines in areas that are under Ukrainian control.
Kremlin Asks Why Zelenskyy Has Not Seen Its Proposal
The Kremlin said on Thursday that Moscow was still waiting for Ukraine’s response to Russia’s latest written proposal in peace talks between the two sides, and questioned why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was unaware of the document.
Zelenskyy said on Wednesday he had not seen or heard about the text the Kremlin said it had sent.
“I repeat once again, as I said yesterday, our formulations, in fact the latest version, were handed to our opponents, to the Ukrainian negotiating delegation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Peskov said the Kremlin was aware of Zelenskyy’s comment, “which also raises certain questions about why no one is reporting to President Zelenskyy about our versions of the text.”
The comments from the two sides appeared to highlight both the gulf in their positions and the poor state of communication between them, eight weeks after Russia sent its troops and tanks into Ukraine and more than three weeks after they last held face-to-face talks on March 29.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 12 that the talks had come to a dead end. Ukraine’s chief negotiator said on Tuesday it was hard to predict when they might resume because of Russia’s siege of Mariupol and what he said was Moscow’s desire to strengthen its position through a new military offensive.
Germany Open to Sending Ukraine Heavy Weapons
Germany is looking into what additional maintenance and ammunition will be needed for its stock of aging Marder armored infantry-fighting vehicles in order for Ukraine to use them, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.
On the second day of a tour of Baltic states, Baerbock addressed criticism by allies and commentators of Germany’s apparent foot-dragging on delivering the weaponry Kyiv says it needs to fend off Russian attacks.
“There are no taboos for us with regard to armored vehicles and other weaponry that Ukraine needs,” she told a news conference with her Estonian counterpart on Thursday.
Earlier, Bild newspaper had accused Chancellor Olaf Scholz of blocking tank deliveries.
Many analysts say Ukraine urgently needs heavy weapons to drive back a Russian invasion that has now concentrated on taking ground in the eastern Donbas region.
But Baerbock said the priority was to ensure Ukraine quickly got older Soviet-designed kit that its military could use without extra training, and that it was doing this by backfilling the stocks of allied countries that had such weaponry to spare with modern German-made gear.
The German armed forces themselves faced equipment shortages, she added, noting that German peacekeeping missions in Africa did not have all the helicopters they needed.
Pressed by journalists on whether Germany’s Leopard tank would be sent to Ukraine, she said troops would need training to use such advanced kit, and that Berlin would pay for that training.
“We are providing 1 billion euros because we should think not just for the coming days and months, but also the next years for the systems Ukraine needs for defense now, but also for a free Ukraine in the future,” she said.
Russia Says Mariupol Captured; Putin Opts to Blockade, Not Storm Mariupol Steel Plant
Russian forces have fully captured the key Donbass Black Sea port-city of Mariupol, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. However, more than 2,000 Ukrainian fighters still remain entrenched at the Azovstal steel plant in the city, he added.
President Vladimir Putin called off plans for the Russian military to storm the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and said on Thursday he wanted Ukrainian forces there to be hermetically sealed in instead.
The full capture of Mariupol, which has been besieged by Russian forces for weeks, is a central part of Moscow’s plans to cut Ukraine off from the Sea of Azov and forge a land bridge connecting Russian-annexed Crimea to Russia.
Putin, in a Kremlin meeting with Sergei Shoigu, his defence minister, gave the order to call off the plan to storm it, saying it was better to save the lives of Russian soldiers and officers and to sit back and wait while Ukrainian forces ran out of supplies.
“I consider the proposed storming of the industrial zone unnecessary,” Putin told Shoigu in a televised meeting at the Kremlin. “I order you to cancel it.
There is no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities,” he told Shoigu.
“Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot pass through.”
Putin called on the remaining Ukrainian fighters in Azovstal to lay down their arms, saying Russia would treat them with respect and provide medical assistance to those injured.
Shoigu had earlier told Putin that more than 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were still holed up in the plant and that it might take three or four days to take control of the facility.
Shoigu told Putin that Mariupol had symbolic importance for Russia because it was what he called the de facto headquarters of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion which Moscow has promised to destroy.
Putin congratulated his defense minister for what he called the successful military operation to “liberate Mariupol” and asked him to pass on his thanks to Russian troops.
“I want them all to know: in our minds, in the minds of all of Russia, they are heroes,” Putin said.
Shoigu told Putin that Russia had killed more than 4,000 Ukrainian troops in its campaign to take Mariupol and that 1,478 had given themselves up. He said Russia had evacuated 142,711 civilians from the city too.
“We need to think about additional support measures, and in some cases, about perpetuating the memory of our comrades who showed heroism and sacrificed their lives for the peaceful life of our people in Donbass (eastern Ukraine) and to ensure the peaceful life and existence of Russia itself, the peaceful existence of our country,” Putin said.
Kremlin: Operation Still ‘According to Plan’
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Russia’s military operation in Ukraine “continues according to plan” although President Vladimir Putin has ordered his forces not to storm the Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the port city of Mariupol.
Peskov told reporters on Thursday that “there was and still is an opportunity for Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms and come out via established corridors.”
He said that “the operation continues according to plan” and that Mariupol “has been liberated.” Asked whether the order not to storm the steel plant represented a change of plans, he said that “this is a separate facility where the remaining group of Ukrainian nationalists is completely blocked.”
Serbian Minister Questions EU Goal Amid War
Serbia’s interior minister says the Balkan country should reconsider its proclaimed goal of joining the European Union because of alleged Western pressure to join international sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.
Aleksandar Vulin was responding Thursday to a question about a draft European Parliament resolution calling on Serbia to introduce sanctions against Russia if it really wants to join the EU.
He told the state RTS broadcaster that the draft ’’clearly indicates that the European Union does not want Serbia in its composition“ and that it’s ’’high time that Serbia also reconsiders its decision to remain on the path to EU membership.’’
Although Serbia has voted in favor of three United Nations resolutions condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine, it has refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow.
Vulin said that “we are an old, ancient, historical nation that chooses its friends. Russia is our friend.”
Denmark Freezes State Student Grant for Studies in Russia and Belarus
Denmark’s Parliament has decided that Danish students studying in Russia or Belarus will no longer be entitled to state grants from Denmark.
Under Danish law, the country’s citizens are entitled to receive financial support throughout their studies wherever they study, a system meant to ensure that people from all social backgrounds can study without having to focus on earning money. This year, they get 6,397 kroner ($931) per month before tax.
Lawmakers voted Thursday to exclude studies in Russia and Belarus from the grant program until Jan. 1, 2024.
German Exports to Russia Plunge Over Invasion
Official figures from Germany show that the country’s exports to Russia plunged in March as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.
The Federal Statistical Office said on Thursday that exports to Russia were down 57.5 percent compared with a year earlier, at 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion), as a result of sanctions and other decisions by companies.
That left Russia as the No. 12 destination outside the European Union for German exports, compared with No. 5 in February.
Germany has Europe’s biggest economy.
Besieged Ukrainian Azov Regiment Outline Conditions to Leave Mariupol
Ukrainian forces holed up at the Azovstal steel plant in the Black Sea port city of Mariupol have outlined their conditions to leave the besieged location.
Late on Wednesday, Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, released a new video address, stating that the troops were ready to leave the plant with the support of an unspecified “third party.” The fighters want to keep their personal weapons, as well as to evacuate their wounded and fallen comrades. Palamar refused to surrender to Russian forces or troops of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), which are besieging the sprawling industrial facility.
Earlier in the day, a similar address was released by Sergey Volyna, the commander of Ukraine’s 36th marines brigade, which is holed up at the plant as well. There are some 500 wounded fighters at the facility, as well as “hundreds” of civilians, Volyna claimed.
Fire Breaks Out at Russian Military Research Facility
A fire has broken out at the Russian Defense Ministry’s research facility in the city of Tver, some 180 kilometers northwest of Moscow, on Thursday.
According to the rescuers, at least one person was killed and 16 others injured in the blaze, media report.
Footage from the scene shows large clouds of smoke billowing from the upper floors of the building, which belongs to the Central Research and Development Institute of Aerospace Defense Troops.
The burning building has been evacuated, with fire brigades currently working on site.
According to preliminary data, the blaze spanned some thousand square meters and caused a partial collapse of the roof.
Turkey Accuses NATO Members Over Ukraine
Turkey wants to negotiate an end to the conflict in Ukraine, while some other NATO members would like to see it drag on as a way to harm Russia, Ankara’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday in a TV interview. In a lengthy appearance on CNN Turk, Cavusoglu addressed Turkey’s decision not to sanction Moscow and why the Istanbul talks between Russia and Ukraine failed, among other things.
“There are countries within NATO that want the Ukraine war to continue. They see the continuation of the war as weakening Russia. They don’t care much about the situation in Ukraine,” Cavusoglu said.
While he did not name any names, U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this month that the conflict in Ukraine “could continue for a long time,” which was echoed by the former CIA chief of Russian operations.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said after a phone call with G7 leaders on Tuesday that the West is united in not allowing Russia to win and determined to “continue to arm the Ukrainian military so that it can continue to defend itself against [Russian] attack.”
Cavusogly also shed light on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s demand for security guarantees from NATO.
“Nobody agrees with Zelensky’s request for NATO’s Article 5 guarantees,” the minister said, referring to the alliance’s famous mutual defense clause. “No country has accepted this proposal. The US, UK, and Canada do not accept this either. Of course, Turkey does not accept this. In principle, no one opposes this guarantee, but the terms of it are not clear.”
Mayor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv Claims City Is Under Intense Bombardment
Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv was under intense bombardment on Thursday, its mayor Ihor Terekhov claimed.
“Huge blasts, the Russian Federation is furiously bombing the city,” Terekhov said in a televised address.
He said that around 1 million people remain in the northeastern city, while about 30 percent of the population have evacuated, mainly women, children, and the elderly.
Ukraine Deputy PM Demands Russia Let Civilians and Wounded Soldiers Leave Azovstal
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk on Thursday demanded Russia urgently allow the evacuation of civilians and wounded soldiers from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol via a humanitarian corridor.
“There are about 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded soldiers there. They all need to be pulled out of Azovstal today,” Vereshchuk said in an online post.
Ukraine Sends Mixed Messages on ‘Easter Truce’
The foreign ministry of Ukraine said on Wednesday that Kyiv is in favor of a four-day “Easter ceasefire” proposed by the UN secretary general, and remains committed to resolving the conflict with Russia peacefully and through diplomacy.
However, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba, had a day earlier, contradicted this stance by telling French media the solution could be found only on the battlefield.
“We fully share the opinion that a humanitarian pause is necessary for the safe evacuation of thousands of civilians wishing to leave the dangerous zones of ongoing and possible hostilities, primarily from the long-suffering Mariupol,” the ministry said on Wednesday.
“We confirmed our agreement with the proposal for a humanitarian ceasefire, forwarded by the deputy secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, Martin Griffiths,” the ministry said, adding that Ukraine “always has been and remains committed to solving the conflict by peaceful and diplomatic means.”
On Tuesday evening, however, Kuleba said something entirely different.
“The question of ending the war with Russia will be resolved on the battlefield, not at the negotiating table,” Kuleba told the French news channel France 24. “This is not a question we intend to resolve through diplomacy.”
Pentagon Outlines Position on Russian Missile Test
The Pentagon on Wednesday said Russia notified the United States ahead of its test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Russia’s first test launch of its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, a new addition to its nuclear arsenal, was not deemed as a “threat” to the United States and its allies, the Pentagon said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on state television described the missile as a “truly unique weapon.”
The weapon will “strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country,” Putin said.
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Ukraine Seeks Mariupol Evacuation Talks After Surrender-or-Die Ultimatum Expires
Ukraine proposed talks with Moscow over evacuating troops and civilians from Mariupol after a Russian surrender-or-die ultimatum expired on Wednesday, leaving many trapped at a steel plant, the last main stronghold of resistance.
A Ukrainian marine commander, Serhiy Volny, said fighters there may not be able to hold out for much longer. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said an estimated 1,000 civilians are also sheltering at the steelworks.
Ukraine is ready for a “special round of negotiations” with no conditions “to save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living and the wounded,” negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.
Fighters remain holed up in the plant and have ignored an ultimatum by Russia to surrender. David Arakhamia, a second negotiator, said in an online post that he and Podolyak were in constant contact with Ukrainian forces in the city.
“Today, in a conversation with the city defenders, a proposal was put forward to hold direct negotiations, on site, on the evacuation of our military garrison,” he said. “For our part, we are ready to arrive for such negotiations at any time as soon as we receive confirmation from the Russian side.”
Russia Now Controls 80 Percent of Luhansk Region
The Luhansk governor said Russian forces now control 80 percent of the region, which is one of two regions that make up the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
One of Russia’s stated goals is to expand the territory in the Donbas under the control of Moscow-backed separatists.
Before Russia invaded on Feb. 24, the Kyiv government-controlled 60 percent of the Luhansk region.
Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians, who renewed their offensive this week in eastern and southern Ukraine, have strengthened their attacks in the Luhansk region.
After seizing Kreminna, Haidai said the Russians now are threatening the cities of Rubizhne and Popasna and he has urged all residents to evacuate immediately.
The Donetsk region, also part of the Donbas, has seen extremely heavy fighting as well—particularly around the port city of Mariupol.
Top Putin Ally Says Russia Will Capture Mariupol on Thursday
A top ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russian forces will seize the last main stronghold of resistance in the besieged city of Mariupol on Thursday after Ukraine proposed talks on evacuating troops and civilians there.
Mariupol would be the biggest city to be seized by Russia since invading Ukraine eight weeks ago in an attack that has taken longer than some military analysts expected, seen over five million people flee abroad and turned cities to rubble.
“Before lunchtime, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the forces of the Russian Federation,” Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia‘s republic of Chechnya, whose forces have been fighting in Ukraine, said of the steel plant.
Ukraine Offers to Hold Mariupol Talks With Russia to Evacuate Garrison, Civilians
Senior Ukrainian negotiators on Wednesday offered to hold special talks with Russia in Mariupol without conditions in a bid to evacuate troops and civilians from the besieged port city.
Negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that the talks could be “one on one. Two on two. To save our guys, Azov, military, civilians, children, the living, and the wounded.”
Ukraine accused Russian forces on Wednesday of failing to observe a local ceasefire agreement long enough to allow large numbers of women, children, and elderly people to flee the city, which has been largely pounded to rubble by Russian forces.
The remaining fighters holed up in a vast steelworks have ignored previous ultimatums by Russia to surrender and made clear on Wednesday their stance had not changed.
David Arakhamia, a second negotiator, said in an online post that he and Podolyak were in constant contact with Ukrainian forces in the city.
“Today, in a conversation with the city defenders, a proposal was put forward to hold direct negotiations, on site, on the evacuation of our military garrison,” he said. “For our part, we are ready to arrive for such negotiations at any time as soon as we receive confirmation from the Russian side.”
Isabel van Brugen, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.