Russia-backed Donetsk Republic will consider joining Russia

Kremlin: Russia to only use nukes in case of existential threat * Russia claims it will reduce military operations in Kyiv and Chernigov

 A view shows an armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict on a road leading to the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 28, 2022. (photo credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)
A view shows an armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict on a road leading to the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 28, 2022.
(photo credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine may consider joining Russia once it controls all of Ukraine's Donetsk region, its news outlet cited separatist leader Denis Pushilin as saying on Tuesday.

"The main task is to reach the constitutional borders of the republic. Then we will determine that," Pushilin was quoted by the Donetsk News Agency as saying.

Russia said on Tuesday it will reduce military operations in Kyiv and Chernigov in order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations, Deputy Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Colonel General Alexander Fomin told Interfax reporters following Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul.

Russia's Defense Minister claimed to have achieved Russia's main objectives for the first phase of the war against Ukraine on Tuesday, Russian state media outlets reported.

"Due to the fact that negotiations on the preparation of an agreement on the neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine, as well as on the provision of security guarantees to Ukraine, are moving into practice, taking into account the principles discussed during today's meeting, by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in order to increase mutual trust and create necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing the above agreement, a decision was made to radically, at times, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernigov direction," he said.

"The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed," Russia's Sergei Shoigu said, according to TASS. The degraded conditions of Ukraine's military would "allow us to focus our main attention and efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbas."

"The Russian armed forces will continue the special military operation until the set goals are achieved," he continued.

"The rest of the special military operation - and denazification is one of the goals of this operation - it continues," said Russian press secretary Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday, Interfax reported.

In an interview with Pravda Ukraine, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy said that he expected the war to continue in one form or another at least until the end of the summer.

Shoigu also said on Tuesday that Ukraine's military capacity had been seriously reduced.

Russian media outlet TASS said that according to Shoigu, "the Armed Forces of Ukraine suffered significant damage." 

"Supremacy in the air has been won. The air force and the air defense system have been practically destroyed," Shoigu continued, according to RIA. "The country's naval forces ceased to exist. Significant losses were suffered by all formations of the ground and airborne assault forces."

Speaking to officials in a televised meeting, Shoigu also warned that Russia would respond appropriately if the NATO military alliance supplied Ukraine with planes and air defense systems.

Nuclear concerns

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told PBS in an interview on Monday that Russia would resort to nuclear weapons only in the case of a "threat to the existence" of his country - and not as a result of the current conflict with Ukraine.

"But any outcome of the operation (in Ukraine), of course, is not a reason for the usage of a nuclear weapon," Peskov said. "We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for the existence of the state, in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat for the existence of our country."

Day 34 of fighting

A Russian rocket hit the regional administration building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday, killing at least seven people and wounding 22, local authorities said.

Eighteen of the wounded were pulled from the rubble by rescue workers, who continue to work at the scene, the emergencies service said in an online post

As Day 34 of the Russia-Ukraine War dawned, "Ukrainian Forces have continued to conduct localized counter attacks to the northwest of Kyiv - including at Irpen, Bucha and Hostomel," the UK Defense Ministry said in a Tuesday intelligence update. "These attacks have had some success and the Russians have been pushed back from a number of positions."

Some Russian units were allegedly pulling back from the area of Kyiv and Chernihiv, according to the Ukrainian military on Tuesday. Ukraine also claimed that attempts to rotate troops was met with refusal by troops in the Russian Pacific fleet.

British military intelligence said on Monday the Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, has been deployed to eastern Ukraine to shore up Russian forces.

“They are expected to deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries, including senior leaders of the organization, to undertake combat operations,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

The report claims that Wagner personnel have been prioritized for the conflict in Ukraine rather than in operations in Africa and Syria. This was motivated by heavy losses and an invasion that has been slowed due to fierce Ukrainian resistance and severe logistical issues.

Artillery strikes continued against Ukrainian positions and population centers, alleged by the Ukrainian military to be in part to cover the resupply of units with fuel and ammunition. This assessment was echoed by the UK Defense Ministry on Tuesday. In the port city of Berdyansk, Russia was reportedly attempting to restore maritime infrastructure after the destruction of a Black Sea Fleet landing vessel last week. 

Sieges of Mariupol, Kharkiv and other encircled Ukrainian cities continued as the military announced that there would be humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, Energodar and Melitopol.

War casualties

After claiming that Ukraine's military had been seriously degraded, Russian Defense Minister Shoigu claimed that 123 out of 152 Ukrainian warplanes had been destroyed, as have 77 of 149 helicopters, and 152 out of 180 air defense emplacements.

The Ukrainian military claimed on Tuesday morning that the Russian military has lost 17200 military personnel since the war began, though Western intelligence estimates put the number of Russians killed in action at about half of that. Ukraine also claims to have destroyed 597 tanks, 1710 armored vehicles, 303 artillery pieces, 96 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 54 anti-air systems, 127 warplanes, 129 helicopters, 178 other ground vehicles, 7 ships, 73 fuel tankers and 71 drones. Open-source intelligence groups such as Oryx, who identify losses through visual confirmation, put Russian vehicle loss estimates much lower.