Putin: Kiev Prevents Ukrainian Troops Besieged at Azovstal Plant From Surrendering
On Thursday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Mariupol has been liberated from Ukrainian forces, adding that remaining troops are still besieged at the Azovstal steel plant.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the President of the European Council Charles Michel that the Kiev regime is preventing the besieged Ukrainian forces at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol from surrendering.
The Kremlin press service said Putin held a "protracted" telephone conversation with Michel on Friday, during which the Russian president noted that he ordered the assault on the industrial zone of the Azovstal plant cancelled for humanitarian reasons.
"All servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as militants of the national battalions and foreign mercenaries, who lay down their arms, are guaranteed life, decent treatment in accordance with international law and provision of qualified medical care. But the Kiev regime does not allow this opportunity to be seized", the Kremlin press service emphasised.
During his conversation with Michel, the Russian president "spoke about the measures related to protection of civilian population, the daily opening of humanitarian corridors and the announcement of ceasefires to provide a safe evacuation of civilians from the combat zone", according to the press service.
It added that Putin also "had drawn attention to the irresponsible statements by EU representatives about the need to resolve the situation in Ukraine by military means, as well as to the bloc ignoring the numerous war crimes commit by the Ukrainian security forces".
The Russian president also noted that "Brussels could influence the Kiev authorities in order to force them to stop conducting massive shelling of Donbass settlements and other gross violations of international humanitarian law".
Russian MoD: Moscow Ready to Announce Ceasefire at Any Time to Evacuate Civilians From Azovstal
This comes after the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) indicated its readiness to announce a ceasefire at any moment to evacuate possible civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the Russian MoD's national defence control centre, told reporters on Friday that the start of the ceasefire around the Azovstal plant will be considered the moment the Ukrainian military, at present under siege in the factory, hoists the white flag.
"The actual beginning of the humanitarian pause will be when the white flag is raised by the Ukrainian armed formations around the entire perimeter or in certain directions of Azovstal. If such signs are found in any of the directions of the Azovstal metallurgical plant, the Russian armed forces and those of the Donetsk People's Republic will immediately stop any hostilities and provide safe access to the gathering places of humanitarian convoys," Mizintsev said.
He added that since the beginning of hostilities, 1,844 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered in Mariupol, and more than 143,000 civilians, including 341 foreigners, have been evacuated from the city.
The head of the Russian MoD's national defence control centre said that all of them are safe and sound, and that they are receiving "qualified medical care provided" where necessary.
The remarks came after Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Mariupol has been liberated from Ukrainian forces, and that order can now be restored in the Ukrainian city. At the same time, Shoigu noted that remaining Ukrainian forces are still besieged at the Azovstal steel plant.
"During the liberation of the city, more than 4,000 [militants] were eliminated, 1,478 surrendered. Of the remaining group, more than 2,000 were blockaded in the industrial zone of the Azovstal plant," the Russian Defence Minister said.
President Putin, for his part, stressed that storming the Azovstal plant and entering its catacombs was unwise. He suggested that Russian forces should organise an air-tight blockade of the industrial zone instead.
The developments come amid Russia's ongoing operation to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine that was announced by President Putin on 24 February, following request for help from the DPR and the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR) amid intensified shelling by the Ukrainian forces. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the operation only targets Ukraine's military infrastructure and civilians are not in danger.
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