By ADAM SCHRECK
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the strategic city of Mariupol on Thursday, even as he ordered his troops not to risk more losses by storming the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the war’s iconic battleground.
Russian troops have besieged the southeastern port city since the early days of the conflict and largely reduced it to ruins. Top officials have repeatedly claimed it was about to fall, but Ukrainian forces have stubbornly held on in the face of overwhelming odds. In recent weeks, they holed up in a sprawling steel plant, as Russian forces pounded the industrial site and repeatedly issued ultimatums ordering their surrender.
But on Thursday, as he has done before, Putin seemed to shift the narrative and declared victory without taking the plant.
“The completion of combat work to liberate Mariupol is a success,” he said in a joint appearance with his defence minister. “Congratulations.”
Ukraine scoffed at the idea that a Russian victory in Mariupol was already achieved.
“This situation means the following — they cannot physically capture Azovstal. They have understood this. They suffered huge losses there,” said Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.