Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia's republic of Chechnya, said Russia’s forces will be in complete control of the Azovstal steel plant, the main remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged port city of Mariupol, on Thursday.
“Before lunch, or after lunch, Azovstal will be completely under the control of the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” Interfax news agency quoted Kadyrov as saying early Thursday.
Mariupol has been under relentless bombardment for weeks. It is a strategic target for the Russians that would allow Moscow to establish control over territory linking the Donbas in south-eastern Ukraine to annexed Crimea.
Currently, Russian forces are focusing their offensive in the port city on the Azovstal steel plant.
Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that Russia is attacking the Azovstal steel plant with bunker-buster bombs, knowing that there are thousands of soldiers and civilians sheltering there.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday his country’s armed forces are incapable of unblocking the Russian siege on Mariupol without help from western allies.
Zelenskyy also said he was willing to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In addition, Kyiv’s officials said Ukraine is ready to hold a “special round of negotiations” with Russia in Mariupol without any conditions.