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Russia declares 1st phase of Ukraine military operation complete, focuses on Donbass liberation

Russia has declared that it has secured the main objectives it sought in the first stage of its “special military operation” against Ukraine and is now moving on its focus on the liberation of the Donbass region, as the conflict enters its second month.

In a statement on Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said Russian-backed forces now controlled 93 percent of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54 percent of the Donetsk region – the two areas that jointly make up the Donbass.

“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate.

“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass,” Rudskoi added.

Rudksoi also said the Russian military had initially considered “confining its operation just to Donbass” but instead opted to move across Ukraine to “damage its military infrastructure” and stop forces from reinforcing the east.

However, the head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate said a Russian-built concrete defense strip in the Donbass region would allow Moscow to continue fighting while “minimizing the losses of servicemen” from the Russian army.

On Thursday, more than 250 airstrikes were carried out by Russian aircraft in Kiev, Chernihiv in the north, and the Kharkiv region, according to the Center for Defense Strategies think tank.

According to a Western official, Russia is sending 10 new battalion tactical groups to Ukraine. Such groups typically have about 700 troops as well as tanks, artillery, and other vehicles.

President Putin announced the “special military operation” on February 24 aimed at the “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, largely populated by ethnic Russians, in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.

Putin said Russian forces were on a mission to demilitarize and “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

The US and its European allies have labeled the military offensive Putin’s imperial-style land grab, saying it has so far been poorly executed because the Kremlin underestimated Ukrainian resistance and Western resolve to punish Russia with unprecedented waves of sanctions, mostly targeting its banks and energy sector.

The scrapping of the highly anticipated Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that would transfer Russian gas directly to Germany was among the measures taken by the West.

Moscow had already warned that it could cut gas supplies to Germany via the Nord Stream one pipeline.

The military conflict has so far displaced more than two and a half million people in what the United Nations has described as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

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