Construction workers load sacks of waste onto a truck in the old town of Lviv, Ukraine, on Friday, March 25, 2022. Image Credit: Bloomberg

London: Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday that the first phase of its military operation in Ukraine was mostly complete and that it would focus on completely “liberating” eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region.

The announcement appeared to indicate that Russia may be switching to more limited goals after running into fierce Ukrainian resistance in the first month of the war Russian news agencies quoted the defence ministry as saying that Russian-backed separatists now controlled 93% of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54% of the Donetsk region - the two areas that jointly make up the Donbass.

The ministry said it did not rule out storming Ukrainian cities that had been blockaded and that Russia would react immediately to any attempt to close the airspace over Ukraine - something Kyiv has asked NATO to do, but NATO has resisted.

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to weaken its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and root out people it called dangerous nationalists.

Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance to the attack and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.

The defence ministry said on Friday that the operation would continue until Russian forces had completed the tasks that had been set, without elaborating.

Russia’s military had considered two options for its operation in Ukraine, one confined to the Donbass and the other on the whole territory of Ukraine, the defence ministry continued.

Reserve fleet of railway wagons

Russia plans to establish a reserve fleet of railway wagons for “state tasks”, according to a letter seen by Reuters, as state needs to expand because of its military operation in Ukraine.

Valentina Matviyenko, chair of the upper house of parliament and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said this week that, as Russia now had a “mobilisation economy”, private rail firms should support state interests and allow Russian Railways to use their wagons.

The letter, dated March 22, says the reserve railcars would enable “transportation of socially significant cargoes” and asks Russian Railways, the federal anti-monopoly service, the ministry of transport and the main industry association to respond by April 10.

State monopoly Russian Railways controls tracks and infrastructure, but the more than 1.1 million rail wagons in Russia are majority-owned by private firms including Freight One, Globaltrans, Transcontainer and the Russian Railways subsidiary, Federal Freight.

Matviyenko said she planned to ask the Security Council - which is chaired by Putin and advises him on policy including the use of Russian military forces abroad - to look into private rail operators.

The head of Russian Railways, Oleg Belozerov, told Security Council members on Tuesday that the state operator should be given about 10% of the existing fleet to use.