Russia's defense ministry announced Friday that remaining Ukrainian fighters from Azov battalion are currently completely blocked from making any exit from Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, after some further successful civilian evacuations were reported earlier. This after the Russian military's 'surrender or die' ultimatum has previously expired.
But as this last stand for Mariupol is still underway, and with President Putin earlier ordering the military to simply "seal off" the giant complex, as opposed to sending troops into an underground, cavernous complex - Putin is accusing the Kiev government of not allowing its fighters to leave.
Putin made the charge in a Friday phone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel, claiming that Ukrainian authorities are "forcing its troops to continue fighting despite repeated offers to surrender by the Russian side."
The Russian leader said as follows:
"All servicemen of the Ukrainian armed forces, militants of the nationalist battalions and foreign mercenaries who lay down their arms are guaranteed life, decent treatment in accordance with international law and the provision of qualified medical care," Putin told Michel, according to the Kremlin.
"But the Kyiv regime does not allow this opportunity to be used."
The EU chief has already come under fire for holding the 90-minute phone call with Putin. For example, Politico charged that "the lengthy telephone call by Michel risked lending renewed legitimacy to the Russian leader, who is mostly isolated and ostracized by his global counterparts these days."
However, as we've highlighted lately, the fact that there's an emerging diplomatic war between the West and Moscow parallel to the ground war doesn't bode well at all for the now increasingly distant prospect of a negotiated settlement or ceasefire.
NEW: Putin's decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol likely shows Russia's desire to free up forces to fight elsewhere: UK Defense Intel— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) April 22, 2022
UK assesses that a 🇷🇺 assault on the plant "would likely incur significant 🇷🇺 casualties." 🇷🇺 has about 12 BTGs in Mariupol
Instead, NATO and Russia seem to be spiraling toward direct conflict more and more as each week goes by - also given that at this point over 300 Russian diplomats have been booted from Europe, and as Washington refuses to so much as engage the Russian ambassador to the US. But obviously any path forward for peace would have to involve some level of open and honest communications.
The Russian ambassador in D.C. this week complained that the Biden administration has imposed a communications "blockade" on him - refusing to engage the embassy at all.