Russian forces have established full control over the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske, a senior defense ministry official said in a statement on Saturday.
“As a result of successful offensive operations, units of the people’s militia of the LPR, with the support of Russian troops … completely liberated the cities of Severodonetsk and Borivske,” said defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
He said the attack had thwarted what he called an Ukrainian attempt to turn the city’s Azot chemical plant into a stubborn centre of resistance.
Konashenkov said LPR fighters now controlled the plant, where several hundred citizens had been sheltering. He made no mention of their fate.
In a statement on Saturday, Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, “Russia has never prevented grain export from Ukraine’s ports.”
She went on to add, “Safe navigation in Ukrainian territorial waters and the use of ports are currently impossible because of the high threat of mines and shelling. This threat was created by Kyiv.”
Meanwhile, Russia said on Saturday will deliver missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Belarus in the coming months, President Vladimir Putin said as he received Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
“In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” Putin said in a broadcast on Russian television at the start of his meeting with Lukashenko in St. Petersburg.
He also offered to upgrade Belarus’ warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons, amid soaring tensions with the West over Ukraine.
“Many Su-25 (aircrafts) are in service with the Belarusian military. They could be upgraded in an appropriate way,” the Russian leader said.
“This modernization should be carried out in aircraft factories in Russia and the training of personnel should start in accordance with this,” he added, after Lukashenko asked him to “adapt” the planes.
“We will agree on how to accomplish this,” Putin said.
Putin has several times referred to nuclear weapons since his country launched a military operation in Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what the West has seen as a warning to the West not to intervene.
Lukashenko said last month that his country had bought Iskander nuclear-capable missiles and S-400 anti-aircraft anti-missile systems from Russia.