New Delhi: In a significant turn of events in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday claimed victory in the biggest battle of the Ukraine war, declaring the port of Mariupol “liberated” after nearly two months of siege. However, hundreds of defenders were still ‘holding out’.
In a televised meeting with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu inside the Kremlin, Putin said there was no need for a final confrontation with the last defenders who were boxed in after surviving nearly two months.
Russia on Thursday also announced the expansion of the entry ban on US officials, including US Vice-President Kamala Harris and 28 other American officials, business giants and journalists.
The sanctions list, published by the Russian foreign ministry, included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, among others.
“These individuals are denied entry into the Russian Federation indefinitely,” said the Russian foreign ministry.
According to experts, Putin’s declaration of victory lets him claim his first big prize since his forces were driven out of northern Ukraine last month after failing to capture the capital, Kyiv.
Russian Defence Minister Shoigu estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remained inside the plant.
Putin called on them to lay down their weapons and surrender, saying Russia would treat them with respect.
When asked to comment on Russia’s decision to block the steelworks rather than storm it, Ukraine’s defence ministry spokeswoman said the move testified to Putin’s “schizophrenic tendencies”.
Ukraine, however, scoffed at the idea that a Russian victory in Mariupol was already achieved.
“The Russian agenda now is not to capture these really difficult places where the Ukrainians can hold out in the urban centres, but to try and capture territory and also to encircle the Ukrainian forces and declare a huge victory,” said retired British Rear Admiral Chris Parry.