Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that a new “stage” of Russia’s attack on Ukraine is starting as Russian attacks stepped up in eastern Ukraine. Over the past few weeks, Russian forces have withdrawn from areas of northern Ukraine to focus on an assault in the east, primarily in the Donbas region.
“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.
Also on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the “battle for Donbas” began on Monday. He said a “very large part of the entire Russian army now focused on this offensive.” Russian attacks were reported across the east on Tuesday along a front that stretches 300 miles long.
The Donbas has been mired in war since 2014, when the separatists in the breakaway Donestk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) declared independence in response to the US-backed ousting of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
In 2014 and 2015, Ukraine and Russia signed the Minsk agreements in an attempt to end the war. Under the deal, Kyiv would cede some autonomy to the DPR and LPR, but the territories would remain part of Ukraine. While the war was at a stalemate for years, ceasefire violations and shelling were common, and Ukraine never fully implemented the Minsk agreements.
Before launching his invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the DPR and LPR. Last month, Russia’s military announced it was shifting the focus of its assault to “liberating” the Donbas. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that Russian forces are now “methodically carrying out” plans to “liberate” the region.