Sourced from Iran State-Controlled Media
PressTV – Russia has declared that it has secured the main objectives it sought in the first stage of its “special military operation” against Ukraine and is now moving on its focus on the liberation of the Donbass region, as the conflict enters its second month.
In a statement, the Russian defense ministry said Russian-backed forces now controlled 93 percent of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54 percent of the Donetsk region – the two areas that jointly make up the Donbass.
“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass,” Rudskoi added.
Rudksoi also said the Russian military had initially considered “confining its operation just to Donbass” but instead opted to move across Ukraine to “damage its military infrastructure” and stop forces from reinforcing the east.
However, the head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate said a Russian-built concrete defense strip in the Donbass region would allow Moscow to continue fighting while “minimizing the losses of servicemen” from the Russian army.
According to a Western official, Russia is sending 10 new battalion tactical groups to Ukraine. Such groups typically have about 700 troops as well as tanks, artillery, and other vehicles.
President Vladimir Putin announced the “special military operation” on February 24 aimed at the “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, largely populated by ethnic Russians, in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.
The US and its European allies have labeled the military offensive Putin’s imperial-style land grab, saying it has so far been poorly executed because the Kremlin underestimated Ukrainian resistance and Western resolve to punish Russia with unprecedented waves of sanctions, mostly targeting its banks and energy sector.
The scrapping of the highly anticipated Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that would transfer Russian gas directly to Germany was among the measures taken by the West.
Zelensky appeals to energy producers to hike output
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on energy-producing countries on Saturday to increase output so that Russia cannot use its oil and gas wealth
to “blackmail” other nations.
“They can do much to restore justice. The future of Europe depends on your effort,” he said in an address to the Doha Forum international conference via video link.
“I ask you to increase the output of energy to ensure that everyone in Russia understands that no country can use energy as a weapon and blackmail the world,” he said in translated comments.
Zelensky also said no country is insured against shocks from disruptions to food supply happening because of Russia’s military operation in his country. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain producers.
“The world’s markets have not yet overcome the repercussions of the pandemic, from the price shocks of food. No one is insured against these shocks and you cannot be insured if there is a physical scarcity of food,” he said.
Zelensky also accused Russia of “bragging” about its nuclear weapons and fueling a dangerous arms race.
“They are bragging that they can destroy with nuclear weapons not only a certain country but the entire planet,” he said.
When Ukraine dismantled its nuclear stockpile in the 1990s it was given “security assurances from the most powerful countries in the world”, including Russia, he said.
“But these assurances did not become guarantees. And in fact, one of the countries supposed to give one of the greatest security promises started to work against Ukraine and this is the ultimate manifestation of injustice,” Zelensky added.
The White House said US President Joe Biden would join a meeting on Saturday in Warsaw between the Ukrainian foreign and defense ministers and their US counterparts.
“This morning, President Biden will drop by a meeting between Secretaries (Antony) Blinken and (Lloyd) Austin and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov,” it said.
‘Russian forces seize Chernobyl workers’ town’
The governor of Kiev region Oleksandr Pavlyuk said Russian forces have taken control of the town of Slavutych, where workers at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant live.
In an online statement, Pavlyuk claimed that Russian troops had occupied the hospital in Slavutych and kidnapped the mayor.
On Friday, Ukraine said its troops had repulsed the first attack by Russian troops closing in on the town.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Kiev said a longer curfew in the Ukrainian capital will be imposed from 2000 local time (1800 GMT) on Saturday until 0800 local times on Monday.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in an online post that the decision was made by the Ukrainian military, without giving further details.
Ukraine’s office of the prosecutor general said the war has killed 136 children in the 31 days since the start of the Russian operation.
Of the total, 64 children have been killed in the Kiev region. A further 50 children have died in the Donetsk region, it said.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the agreement has been reached on the establishment of 10 humanitarian corridors on Saturday to evacuate civilians from front-line hotspots in Ukrainian towns and cities.
She also said civilians trying to leave Mariupol would have to leave in private cars as Russian forces were not letting buses through their checkpoints around the besieged southern port.
Ukraine and Russia have traded blame when humanitarian corridors have failed to work in recent weeks.