Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed on Tuesday the start of a new phase of the war with Ukraine in the Donbas region, in the east of the country
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed on Tuesday the start of a new phase of the war with Ukraine in the Donbas region, in the east of the country.
Lavrov referred to this “another phase” of the Ukraine invasion as a “very important moment”.
The confirmation of this new phase by Russia comes one day after the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, announced the start of a new Russian offensive in the east of his country.
“The operation in eastern Ukraine is aimed, as announced from the very beginning, at completely liberating the (self-proclaimed) Donetsk and Luhansk republics. And this operation will continue,” Lavrov said.
“Another stage of this operation begins, and I am sure it will be a very important moment in this entire special operation,” he added.
thousands of soldiers
For weeks, Moscow has been massing troops in the Donbas region after giving up its offensive in western Ukraine.
US officials say Russia has 76 battalions in eastern Ukraine, adding 11 in recent days. These groups are normally made up of between 700 and 900 soldiers plus military equipment.
According to Ukrainian estimates, in total there are more than 700,000 Russian troops in Donbas.
Russian security policy expert Aglaya Snetkov notes that another 22 battalions are believed to be around the devastated southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
If that key city falls, it would allow those forces to move north and join the fight in Donbas, which could be important but not necessarily decisive.
In an interview with Indian television, Lavrov was asked if Russia was considering the use of nuclear weapons.
“Only conventional weapons,” he replied.
Ukrainian officials have recently warned the West about Moscow’s possible use of tactical nuclear weapons.
At the start of the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s deterrent forces (including nuclear weapons) to be put on high alert, and some Russian government officials have hinted that the country would be willing to use them under certain circumstances.
A race against time
Analysis by Frank Gardner, BBC Security Correspondent
Some of Ukraine’s best forces are fighting in the east but they are badly outnumbered.
Russia has up to 76 so-called tactical battalions in Ukraine. These have up to 1,000 troops each and are targeting the east. They have enormous artillery and air attack capabilities.
Ukraine has said that to have any chance of defense in this major assault, it needs “heavy equipment, weapons, Starstreak missiles, anti-tank missiles and air defense units.”
Moscow is well aware of this and has started attacking the supply routes where these resources come from: from Poland, Slovakia and other NATO countries.
Resupplying the beleaguered Ukrainian armed forces in time for them to defend against this assault is truly a race against time.
This could end either way, and even if they beat Russia in the next few battles, we still wouldn’t be out of the woods. I’m afraid this war has more time left.
Why does the Donbas region matter?
Donbas is a former coal and steel-producing region in Ukraine. This area also includes the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which stretch from the outskirts of Mariupol in the south to the northern border.
“The key is that they have been identified by the Kremlin as the Russophone parts of Ukraine that are more Russian than Ukrainian,” explains Sam Cranny-Evans of the Royal Untited Services Institute.
But different experts indicate that this does not imply that the regions are pro-Russian.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has repeatedly made the baseless accusation that Ukraine has carried out genocide in the east.
When the war began, almost two-thirds of the eastern regions were in the hands of Ukraine. The rest was run by Russian proxies, who created small states backed by Moscow during a war that began eight years ago.
Just before the start of the invasion, Putin recognized the two eastern regions as independent from Ukraine.
If Russia were to conquer both regions, the next step would be to annex them as Putin did with the Crimean peninsula in 2014 after a controversial referendum.