Russia begins 2nd phase of military operation in Ukraine

A woman pushes her bike pasts buildings destroyed in bombardment, in the Ukrainian town of Borodianka, in the Kyiv region on April 17, 2022.

MOSCOW/KYIV – The second phase of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine has begun, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday.

The operation in eastern Ukraine is aimed at "completely liberating" the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk, Lavrov said during an interview with India Today.

This operation will continue, the next phase of this operation has now begun. There will now be an important moment during this special operation.

Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister 

"This operation will continue, the next phase of this operation has now begun. There will now be an important moment during this special operation," he added.

Also on Tuesday, the Ukrinform news agency reported that up to 30 percent of Ukraine's infrastructure was damaged as the result of the conflict with Russia, which started on Feb 24.

The hostilities have either destroyed or damaged 300 bridges and more than 8,000 km of roads, said Ukrinform, quoting Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

READ MORE: Kiev plunges into chaos as Russia launches 'special military operation'

The Ukrainian government estimated that the cost of direct damage to the country's infrastructure caused by the conflict could reach $100 billion, added Kubrakov.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on economic issues via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, April 18, 2022. (MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV, SPUTNIK, KREMLIN POOL VIA AP)Putin: West's 'economic blitzkrieg' against Russia fails

Western countries' "economic blitzkrieg" strategy against Russia has failed, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday.  

The main negative factor for the Russian economy in recent years has been Western sanctions, which were aimed at "quickly undermining the financial and economic situation in our country, provoking panic in the markets, destroying the banking system, and causing a large-scale shortage of goods in stores," Putin said at a government meeting on economic issues. 

Russia has withstood this "unprecedented pressure" as the ruble's value has returned to the level of the first half of February and the surplus in the current account of the balance of payments reached a record high of more than $58 billion in the first quarter of this year, he said.  

The Russian president however admitted that over the past month and a half, consumer prices in the country have increased by 9.4 percent and inflation surged to 17.5 percent in annual terms as of April 8. 

READ MORE: Russia claims full control of urban area of Mariupol

However, the sanctions in turn have hurt the United States and European countries by driving up inflation and unemployment, weakening economic dynamics, reducing living standards, and devaluating savings, Putin added.  

EU receives Ukraine's membership questionnaire 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday handed over a questionnaire aimed at achieving his country's candidate status for the European Union membership to the EU Ambassador to Ukraine Matti Maasikas, the presidential press service said. 

"Today is one of the stages for our country in joining the EU, the aspiration that our people are striving for and fighting for," Zelensky said at the handover ceremony in Kyiv. 

In this image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy presents Matti Maasikas, head of the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine, with the two-volume set of Ukraine's answers to the European Union questionnaire, the first step in his campaign to obtain accelerated EU membership, in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 18, 2022. (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE VIA AP)

The people of Ukraine are united by the goal to become a part of the EU, Zelensky stressed, noting that the prompt work on providing a questionnaire to Ukraine is an important signal for Kyiv. 

Today is one of the stages for our country in joining the EU, the aspiration that our people are striving for and fighting for.

Volodymyr Zelensky, President, Ukraine 

"We believe that we will gain support and become a candidate for accession," Zelensky said. 

For his part, Maasikas said that Ukraine's answers to the questionnaire will be analyzed "very quickly". 

Earlier in the day, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna said that Kyiv has sent the first part of a questionnaire, which covers political and economic spheres, to the European Commission. 

On Feb 28, Zelensky signed an official appeal to the EU asking for the accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen handed over a questionnaire to Zelensky during her visit to Kyiv on April 8. 

‘Foreign weapons destroyed near Lviv’ 

Russian troops destroyed a depot of weapons supplied by Western countries near west Ukraine's Lviv on Monday morning, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.  

The Russian Aerospace Forces used high-precision airborne missiles to hit a logistics center of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near Lviv, destroying large consignments of weapons arrived from the United States and European countries over the past six days, Konashenkov told a briefing.  

ALSO READ: Six killed in missile strikes on Ukraine's western city of Lviv

At least seven people were killed and 11 others wounded on Monday morning in missile strikes on Lviv, said Maksym Kozytsky, head of the Lviv regional military-civilian administration.    

Zelensky : Russian forces start battle for Donbas 

Russian forces have begun the battle for the Donbas region, but Ukraine will defend itself, Ukrainian President Zelensky said in a video address on Monday. 

"Now we can say that Russian troops have started the battle for Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive," Zelensky was quoted as saying by the state-run Ukrinform news agency. 

"No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight." 

In the east and south of Ukraine, Russian forces have recently been trying to attack more deliberately than before and looking for a weak spots in the country's defense to go there with the main forces, Zelensky said.   

Damaged and burned vehicles are seen at a destroyed part of the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant, as smoke rises from the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal during heavy fighting, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, April 18, 2022. (ALEXEI ALEXANDROV / AP)

The same day, Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov said Russian forces tried to start an active phase of the offensive in eastern Ukraine, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported. 

On Monday morning, along almost the entire front line in Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv regions, Russian forces attempted to break through Ukrainian defenses, according to Danilov. 

Russian forces managed to make advances only in two small towns, he said, stressing that the Ukrainian military is holding their grounds elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. 

Russia expels Bulgarian diplomats

Russia is expelling a number of Bulgarian diplomats in response to the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats from Sofia last month, the country's foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday. 

The ministry summoned the Bulgarian ambassador on Monday and declared some employees of the Bulgarian Embassy in Moscow "personae non gratae," it said, without disclosing how many are targeted. 

Earlier this month, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the expulsion of two Bulgarian diplomats in tit-for-tat retaliation. 

On March 18, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry declared 10 Russian diplomats "personae non gratae”, ordering them to leave within 72 hours due to their "activities incompatible with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations." 

The US and some European countries have taken coordinated actions to expel several hundred Russian diplomats since the start of a special military operation in Ukraine.