Russian President Putin claims victory in Mariupol despite leaving defenders holed up

Kremlin declares the port city 'liberated' after nearly two months of clashes



File photo
File photo

Published: Thu 21 Apr 2022, 6:58 PM

President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the biggest battle of the Ukraine war on Thursday, declaring the port of Mariupol “liberated” after nearly two months of siege, despite leaving hundreds of defenders still holed up inside a giant steel works.

Ukraine derided Putin’s attempt to avoid a final clash with its forces in the city as an acknowledgment that he lacked the troops to defeat them.

In a televised meeting at the Kremlin, Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu: “You successfully completed the combat effort to liberate Mariupol. Let me congratulate you on this occasion, and please convey my congratulations to the troops.”

He added: “I consider the proposed storming of the industrial zone unnecessary. I order you to cancel it ... There’s no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through these industrial facilities ... Block off this industrial area so that not even a fly can get through.”

The decision not to storm the Azovstal steel plant - after days of ultimatums to its defenders to surrender or die - allowed Putin to claim his first big prize since his forces were driven out of northern Ukraine last month. But it falls short of the unambiguous victory Moscow has sought after months of brutal combat in a city reduced to rubble.

“They physically cannot take Azovstal, they have understood this, they have taken huge losses there,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told a briefing. “Our defenders continue to hold it.”

Asked to comment on Putin’s move, a Ukrainian defence ministry spokesperson said it showed the Kremlin leader’s “schizophrenic tendencies”. President Volodymyr Zelensky said 120,000 civilians were still being blocked from leaving Mariupol.

With Ukraine pleading for weapons to fend off Russia’s assault, U.S. President Joe Biden was expected to announce another $800 million worth of military aid, similar in size to a package announced last week.

The Spanish and Danish prime ministers became the latest Western leaders to visit Kyiv, both also promising arms.


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