The Kiev administration is blocking the beleaguered Ukrainian military at the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol from surrendering, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin and European Council President Charles Michel.
Putin had a « long » phone call with Michel on Friday, according to the Kremlin press service, during which the Russian president stated that the attack on the Azovstal plant’s industrial zone had been canceled for humanitarian reasons, according to RIA Novosti.
“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.
The Russian president « talked about measures linked to civilian population protection, the daily establishment of humanitarian corridors, and the proclamation of ceasefires to facilitate a safe evacuation of people from the battle zone » during his meeting with Michel, 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”.
« Brussels might influence the Kiev authorities in order to force them to stop conducting enormous bombardment of Donbass towns and other flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, » Russian President Vladimir Putin added.
This comes after the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated that it is ready to declare a ceasefire at any time to allow people to flee the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol.
The start of the ceasefire around the Azovstal plant will be considered the moment the Ukrainian military, which is currently under siege in the factory, hoists the white flag, according to Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s national defense control center, who told reporters on Friday.
“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 also stated that 1,844 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered in Mariupol since the start of fighting, and that over 143,000 residents, including 341 foreigners, have been evacuated from the city.
All of them are safe and sound, according to the head of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s national defense control center, and they are having « quality medical treatment supplied » as needed.
The comments come after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Ukrainian soldiers had been driven out of Mariupol, and that order could now be restored in the Ukrainian city. At the same time, Shoigu stated that the Azovstal steel facility is still encircled by Ukrainian soldiers.
“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.
For his part, President Putin emphasized that attacking the Azovstal complex and exploring its catacombs was a bad idea. Instead, he advised that Russian soldiers set up an airtight blockade of the industrial zone.
The developments take place in the context of Russia’s ongoing demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine, which was announced by President Putin on February 24 in response to a request for assistance from the DPR and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) amid increased shelling by Ukrainian forces. The operation is primarily targeting Ukraine’s military infrastructure, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, and civilians are not in risk.