Russia and Ukraine crisis: Zelenskyy announces new Russian assault in the east
“Now we can say that the Russian troops have started the battle for Donbass... We will fight and we will not give in” said the Ukrainian president.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has announced the start of the Russian offensive against eastern Ukraine, a region partly held by pro-Russian separatists and the expected target in the next phase of the conflict. Russia pulled its troops back from fighting near Kyiv after failing to take the city in the first six weeks of the conflict.
“Now we can say that Russian troops have started the battle of the Donbass, for which they were preparing for a long time. A large part of the entire Russian army is now engaged in this offensive,” Zelenskyy said in a speech broadcast on Telegram. The Ukrainian president stressed that Ukrainian soldiers “will battle” and “will not give up” any of the country’s territory.
What have other countries and organisations said about the latest assault?
US Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told a press conference that there is an influx of artillery equipment, helicopter support and elements to facilitate Russian command and control operations in the Donbas.
“We believe [the Russians] have reinforced the number of their battalion tactical groups in eastern and southern Ukraine”, Kirby noted.
Battalion tactical groups are typical of the Russian Armed Forces and are units, 600-800 strong, with a high level of readiness to engage in high-intensity combat with various types of weapons. Kirby said that in recent days Russia has sent more than 10 new tactical battalion groups to eastern Ukraine.
The start of the“Battle of the Donbass”, as Zelenskyy has described it, confirms statements made by UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, in which he has stressed that “Russia does not have the ceasefire high on its agenda”.
“A cease-fire is not on the horizon, maybe in a couple of weeks, this will depend on the talks, as there needs to [first] be a minimum of confidence building,” Griffiths told a press conference at UN headquarters.
Any progress on this will depend first on the two sides sitting down to talk, “but if they don’t even sit down and blame each other, we can’t move forward,” he lamented, but repeatedly cited Russia as the main culprit behind the deadlock.
Griffiths advocated the creation of what he called a “Humanitarian Contact Group”, a formula that worked in recent years in the low-intensity war in the eastern Ukraine. The idea is to stop the fighting briefly to allow the passage of medical or humanitarian material, as well as the exit of civilians.
Griffiths stressed that the only serious mediation effort currently underway is the one being carried out by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and said that he plans to travel to Turkey this week to facilitate talks between the two sides.