Putin claims success in Mariupol after 2 failed deadlines, calls Russian troops ‘heroes’

File photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI

April 21 (UPI) — After relentless bombardment and failed ultimatums, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday attempted to claim victory in Mariupol — a key battleground in Ukraine where resistance fighters have held back Moscow’s advances.

For weeks, Russian forces have attacked Mariupol to gain a strategic advantage in the southern port city, but have met stubborn resistance there by Ukraine’s military and civilian fighters. This week, Moscow has shelled a steel plant there where many of the resistance fighters have hunkered down.

Since the invasion began Feb. 24, Putin has falsely claimed Russia’s war is a “peacekeeping” mission intended to root out neo-Nazi leadership in the former Soviet republic. He’s also said the invasion is “saving” people in Ukraine. On Thursday, he struck a similar chord.

“The completion of combat work to liberate Mariupol is a success,” the Kremlin leader said according to the state-run Tass news agency.

“I congratulate you. Pass on the words of gratitude to the troops,” Putin told Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu. “I want them all to know … they are all heroes.”

During the meeting with Putin, Shoigu said that Russian troops “liberated” the city.

Thursday’s remarks came after Putin issued two ultimatums this week for Ukrainian forces to surrender Mariupol. They complied with neither — and they continue to hold the Azovstal steel plant.

Putin also noted Thursday that he’s ordered his troops not to storm the Azovstal plant in an apparent change of strategy.

Mariupol is important to Russia because it would provide a land bridge from Crimea — which Moscow unlawfully annexed in 2014 — to the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Mariupol would also aid Russia in its new military focus on controlling the Donbas, a separatist-held region that’s opposed the government in Kyiv for nearly a decade.

In Thursday’s meeting, Putin explained that efforts to raid the four-square-mile steel plant and its network of tunnels is “impractical” and said Russian forces instead will form a blockade so tight that “even a fly can’t get in or out.”

The meeting came one day after Moscow agreed to open a humanitarian corridor in Mariupol to allow an escape for thousands of trapped civilians there. A small convoy of buses carried civilians out of the city on Wednesday, but Ukrainian officials said the effort was largely unsuccessful. Those who escaped were women, children and the elderly.

One of the primary factors that hindered greater success in evacuating Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said, was the lack of a genuine cease-fire. Despite agreeing to the escape corridor, Russian forces relentlessly bombed the city all day Wednesday.

Moscow says it has tightened its grip in the Luhansk region of the Donbas — where regional leader Serhiy Haidai said Russia controls about 80% of the area, including the town of Kreminna. Russian defense officials said they ordered more than 1,000 strikes on Ukrainians positions.

Russia also is continuing its advance toward Kramatorsk, also in the Donbas region, with rocket attacks Thursday. Dozens of Ukrainian civilians, including children, were killed in Kramatorsk two weeks ago when a Russian airstrike targeted a crowded train station there where people were waiting for transportation out of the area.


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