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Day 55: Russia launches new stage of operation in Ukraine

Tanks of Russian troops drive along a road during Ukraine-Russia conflict near the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 17, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia says it has launched a new stage of military operation in Ukraine, carrying out dozens of airstrikes in eastern Ukraine overnight on the 55th day of the conflict. 

In a statement on Tuesday, the Russian defense ministry said “high-precision air-based missiles” struck 13 Ukrainian positions while other airstrikes targeted "60 military assets of Ukraine,” including in towns close to the eastern frontline.

Russian troops, it said, targeted two warehouses containing warheads of Tochka-U tactical missiles in the Lugansk and Kharkiv regions.

“Russian air defense systems shot down a Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter near the village of Malynivka in the Donetsk region,” the statement said, adding that a total of 1,260 military targets were hit by rockets and artillery overnight.

New operation in Donbas 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed the new stage of military operation in Ukraine, calling it a significant development.

“Another stage of this operation (in eastern Ukraine) is beginning and I am sure this will be a very important moment of this entire special operation", Lavrov said in an interview with the India Today TV channel.

In a Telegram message late Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian troops had begun the battle for the Donbas region, populated with ethnic Russians, stressing that Ukrainian forces will continue resistance.

Kiev's presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak described the Russian attacks as “the second phase of the war.”

A complete control of Donbas would allow Moscow to create southern access to the Crimean peninsula.

On Monday, five “powerful” Russian missiles struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv amid a blitz of explosions in different cities.

While focusing its ground offensive on Donbas, Russian military launched long-distance strikes at targets elsewhere, including the capital Kiev.

Operation in Lugansk 

As part of the new operation, Russian forces broke into the city of Kreminna in Lugansk region on Monday. Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the region, said four people had died while attempting to flee the city as Russian troops moved in.

In a statement on social media, Gaiday said that the Russian army has "already entered there with a huge amount of military hardware", adding that their forces had "retreated to new positions.”

According to the Ukrainian presidential office, at least eight people have been killed and 13 wounded in shelling in Lugansk and Donetsk frontline towns and villages.

Ukrainian media also reported explosions along the frontline in the Donetsk region, with shelling taking place in Marinka, Sloviansk, and Kramatorsk. Blasts were also heard in Kharkiv in the northeast, Mykolaiv in the south, and Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

Western accusations against Russia

Western countries and Ukraine accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of unprovoked aggression. French President Emmanuel Macron said that he stalled his dialogue with Putin after mass killings were discovered in Ukraine. Russia denies targeting civilians.

The US was set to hold a video meeting with allies on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

The United States military expects to start training Ukrainians on using howitzer artillery in coming days, a senior US defense official said on Monday. 

Last week, US President Joe Biden announced an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, expanding the aid to include heavy artillery.

So far, four flights of weapons have been sent by the United States as part of the new package.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the howitzer training would take place outside Ukraine.

The United States is planning on teaching Ukrainian trainers on how to use some of the new batch of weapons such as howitzers and radars and then for the trainers to instruct their colleagues inside Ukraine.

The United States has previously trained Ukrainian forces on Switchblade drones.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday the US and other Western countries are doing everything to drag out Russia's military operation in Ukraine. 

"The increasing volume of foreign arms supplies clearly demonstrates their intentions to provoke the Kiev regime to fight to the last Ukrainian standing," Shoigu was cited as saying.

The White House announced on Monday that Biden is not planning to visit Kiev.

“There are no plans for the president to go. Let me just reiterate that,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Earlier, in an interview aired by CNN on Sunday, Zelensky said he thinks Biden will visit, adding that it is about the "safety situation".

The Biden administration has said that it instead wants to send a high-ranking official to the crisis-stricken country.

The US and its European allies have dubbed the military operation as “Putin’s land grab,” imposing a slew of sanctions on Moscow. 

Russian ultimatum in Mariupol

Clearing the last pieces from Mariupol, Russian forces have issued a new ultimatum to the Ukrainian forces to leave the city.

Russia's defense ministry called on Kiev on Tuesday to show “reason and give the corresponding orders to fighters to cease their senseless resistance", adding that they would be “guaranteed survival” if they “immediately laid down their arms”.

On Saturday, Russia said it had seized control of urban areas, with some Ukrainian fighters remaining in the Azovstal steelworks overlooking the Sea of Azov.

The Kremlin says it will halt the operation in Ukraine if Kiev meets Russia’s demands, including abandoning its ambitions to join NATO.

Greece seizes Russian oil tanker

Greece seized a Russian crude oil tanker off the island of Evia on Tuesday “as part of European Union sanctions” against Russia, a top official of the country was quoted as saying.

A Greek shipping ministry official said the tanker was seized near the coastal city of Karystos in Evia with 19 Russian crew members on board.

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