RUSSIAN Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu says Moscow has completed the main objectives of the first phase of the special military operation in Ukraine and that the army will be focusing on the ‘liberation’ of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, collectively known as the Donbass.
Shoigu said in a meeting at the Russian Defence Ministry on Tuesday that Moscow can now focus on its key objective since the main tasks of the first phase of the war have been completed and Russian forces have ‘significantly reduced’ the Ukrainian military’s combat power.
‘In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed, which allows us to focus our main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of the Donbass,’ he said.
The Russian defence minister added that, ‘The combat potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was significantly reduced, the Air Force and Air Defence of Ukraine were practically destroyed, and its Navy ceased to exist’ following the start of the military campaign.
Shoigu stressed that the ‘military operation’ will continue until all the goals set are achieved.
Russia reiterated its stated position on the use of nuclear weapons, saying such a move will be taken only if Moscow is faced with an existential threat.
During the meeting on Tuesday, the Russian defence minister also condemned the West’s decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, calling the move ‘reckless’. Shoigu said Kiev is ‘mindlessly’ handing out those weapons to the local population and mercenaries, adding that the move might create threats to the Europeans themselves in the future.
The top Russian official warned that Moscow would respond ‘adequately’ if the NATO military alliance supplied Ukraine with planes and air defence systems, without elaborating.
In a televised speech on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine following Moscow’s recognition of Lugansk and Donetsk republics.
The conflict has provoked a unanimous response from Western countries, which have imposed a long list of sanctions on Moscow. Russia says it will halt the military operation instantly if Kiev meets Moscow’s list of demands, including never applying to join NATO.
Peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations are taking place in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with an Interfax source saying a document on the neutral status of Ukraine may be signed later on Tuesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Russian and Ukrainian delegations to ‘put an end to this tragedy’ as the two warring sides began face-to-face talks in Istanbul for the first time after several virtual rounds of negotiations.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russia and the United States will need to have a dialogue on security ‘sooner or later’, but their bilateral ties will inevitably be affected by US President Joe Biden’s ‘personal insults’ directed at the Russian leader.
‘Personal insults cannot but leave their mark on relations between heads of state,’ Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Peskov, however, added, ‘One way or another, sooner or later, we will have to speak about questions of strategic stability and security and so on.’
President Biden’s unscripted remark declaring that the Russian leader ‘cannot remain in power’ threatens to unravel the threads of US-Russia relations.
At the end of a speech in the Polish capital of Warsaw on Saturday, Biden denounced Putin over Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, saying, ‘For God’s sake, this man (Putin) cannot remain in power.’
The US president had earlier called the Russian leader a ‘killer’, ‘butcher’, and ‘war criminal’ over the military offensive in the former Soviet state.
- Russia has reiterated its stated position on the use of nuclear weapons, saying such a move will be taken only if Moscow is faced with an existential threat.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov stressed that any outcome of the current conflict with Ukraine will not be the grounds for using of a nuclear weapon.
‘We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat to the existence of the state, in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat for the existence of our country,’ Peskov said in an interview with PBS.
‘Let’s keep these two things separate, I mean the existence of the state and special military operation in Ukraine. They have nothing to do with each other,’ he stressed.
Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev has said that the threat of a nuclear conflict always exists, even though no one wants war.
In an interview with CNN last week, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said Russia would consider using nuclear weapons if it is confronted with an ‘existential threat’.
‘If it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be,’ he was cited as saying, which prompted Western officials to accuse Moscow of having plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
The spokesman in his PBS interview on Monday said Russia was convinced that the NATO military alliance was a machine of confrontation, rather than cooperation and security.
He said Moscow does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The tribunal has opened an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine. But its prosecutor says Russia has not responded to his request for contributions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be on high alert.
The country possesses approximately 6,000 nuclear warheads, which are believed to be the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, more than the US.
The Ukrainian foreign minister has expressed optimism that the first face-to-face peace talks with Moscow this week could lead to a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending Russia’s protracted military campaign in the former Soviet state.
Western countries, led by the US, have slapped tough sanctions on Russia in the wake of its military operation on Ukraine, which has now entered its second month.
The US and its allies have decried Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine as unprovoked, but Moscow says the ‘special operation’ aims to ‘demilitarise’ and ‘denazify’ the country after years of fighting between the Kiev government and separatists in the breakaway Donbass region.
Delegations from Kiev and Moscow have been negotiating for peace and ceasefire in recent weeks, but apparently no breakthrough has been achieved so far.
- Russia says the United States has unleashed a massive cyber operation against it, threatening Washington with ‘severe consequences’.
More than a month into the military conflict in Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that Washington and ‘its satellites are undertaking a massive cyber-operation against our country’.
The attacks, according to the ministry, include stealing Russians’ personal data, putting pressure on the economy, and spreading ‘fake information’ about the Russian military.
It also said the US and other NATO members had trained Ukrainian hackers.
‘There should be no doubt that cyber aggression unleashed against Russia will lead to severe consequences for its instigators and perpetrators,’ the ministry said.
It also said that ‘the sources of attacks will be identified and the attackers will inevitably be held accountable for their actions in accordance with the law.’
Earlier this week, a top US cyber official accused Russia of considering carrying out a ‘disruptive cyber activity’ against American businesses, all critical infrastructure owners and operators.
‘All businesses, all critical infrastructure owners and operators need to assume that disruptive cyber activity is something that the Russians are thinking about, are preparing for, and are exploring options,’ Jen Easterly, director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told CNN on Sunday.
Russia has dismissed the United States’ accusations that Moscow might be preparing to launch cyber attacks against American assets, saying that Moscow does not engage in ‘banditry’.
He was echoing a prior warning by President Joe Biden that Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely to use cyber attacks as a form of retaliation against Washington for its actions to counter Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Biden issued an urgent warning to American business leaders last week, telling them to strengthen their companies’ cyber defences immediately.
‘The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential and it’s coming,’ Biden told business leaders.