Russia claims it ‘liberated Mariupol’, but Azovstal resistance persists
Moscow, Apr 21 (EFE).- Russia Thursday claimed that it had captured the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol as President Vladimir Putin canceled the plan to storm the Azovstal steel plant, the last pocket of resistance where some 2,000 people have taken shelter.
“The armed forces of the Russian Federation and the militias of the Donetsk have liberated Mariupol,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised meeting with Putin broadcast on public television Rossia 24.
Shoigu said the remaining nationalist formations of Ukraine had taken refuge in the industrial zone of the Azovstal plant.
He said some 2,000 Ukrainian troops and fighters remained inside the plant, making it the last pocket of resistance with its underground tunnels.
The defense minister informed Putin that it would take three or four days to “finish the job.”
Putin hailed the “success” of the Russian armed forces, speaking for the first time of a victory in the “special military operation” launched in Ukraine on Feb.24.
Putin canceled the Russian military plans to storm the plant spread over a large swathe of territory.
But he ordered that it should be tightly blockaded not to let the people go in or come out without surrendering.
“I consider the proposed assault on the industrial zone inappropriate,” Putin told Shoigu. “I order you to cancel it.”
The Russian president said the decision to cancel the assault on the Azovstal plant was to save the lives of Russian soldiers.
“There is no need to climb into these catacombs, crawl underground through these industrial facilities. Block off this industrial zone so that the fly does not pass through. Suggest again to everyone who has not yet laid down their arms to do so,” Putin said.
The plant, a heavily fortified area, is spread over 11 sq km and has many underground tunnels and bunkers.
Meanwhile, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Russia had only made “minor advances in the ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine,” seizing several small towns and advancing into the key frontline towns of Rubizhne and Popasna.
The institute said the Russian forces continued building the logistics and command-and-control capabilities necessary for a larger offensive.
“Russian forces have not achieved any major breakthroughs, nor have they demonstrated any new capability to conduct multiple successful, simultaneous advances,” said the institute in its latest analysis of military operations in Ukraine.
It said Russia was planning a Victory Day parade in Mariupol on May 9 to mark the Russian defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 at the end of World War 2.
Experts say the strategic Mariupol, next to the Sea of Azov, is one of the main objectives of the Russians in their effort to achieve total control of the Donbas region and create a land corridor in the east of the country to the annexed Crimean peninsula. EFE