Russia preparing for new offensive in Donbas region with Mariupol the main target, Zelensky says

Russia will be starting a new offensive in the eastern separatist region of Donbas, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said, with the main target being the besieged city of Mariupol, where thousands of people have already died.

Moscow is concentrating tens of thousands of troops around the area in a bid to force Ukrainians to cease the separatist eastern region, which is home to the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, to Russia.

A major part of the offensive in the east has been the siege of the Black Sea port city of Mariupol for almost seven weeks, as it would create a land corridor between the eastern region of Donbas and the annexed peninsula of Crimea.

Delivering a regular early morning roundup from the conflict zone, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said that aside from trying to take control of Mariupol, Russian forces were also intent on capturing Popasna, a town more than two hours drive west of Luhansk, and were set to launch an offensive in the direction of Kurakhove, in the Donetsk region.

The Ukrainian military said that its troops had repulsed attacks in both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, destroying four tanks, five armoured vehicles, 26 vehicles and eight enemy artillery systems. It also said its forces had downed a Russian plane, two helicopters and four drones. Reuters could not independently verify those figures.

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Britain’s defence ministry said fighting in Donbas is set to intensify in the next two to three weeks.

Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed push towards Kramatorsk, British military intelligence said in an update on Twitter.

The report also said that Russian forces continue to withdraw from Belarus in order to redeploy in support of operations in eastern Ukraine.

Russian troops have been regrouping in the east after suffering heavy losses and withdrawing from the suburbs of the capital of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said following talks in Moscow on Monday that an offensive in the east was “being prepared on a massive scale”.

A senior US defence official also said on Monday that Russia has started reinforcing and resupplying its troops in Donbas in eastern Ukraine but it was not believed it was for a new offensive.

“We believe that this is an effort to reinforce and resupply their forces in the Donbas, they’re still north of Izyum,” the official said, referring to a town about 180 km (112 miles) north of the city of Donetsk.

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