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Russia on Tuesday reportedly has launched a road connection between its borders and the Crimean Peninsula as Moscow touted fresh territorial gains in the war against Ukraine.
The Kyiv Independent news website cited Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying that the newly-established overland connection will run through the Russian-occupied Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
“Joint efforts of the Russian Ministry of Defense and Russian Railways have created conditions for the resumption of full-fledged traffic between Russia, Donbass, Ukraine and Crimea on six railway sections,” the Russian Foreign Ministry also said in a Telegram post.
Russia on Tuesday claimed to have taken control of 97% of one of the two provinces that make up Ukraine’s Donbas, bringing the Kremlin closer to its goal of fully capturing the eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories.
Shoigu said Moscow’s forces hold nearly all of Luhansk province. And it appears, according to the Associated Press, that Russia now occupies roughly half of Donetsk province, Ukrainian officials and military analysts say.
Before the February invasion, Ukrainian officials said Russia controlled some 7% of the country, including the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and areas held by the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces now hold 20% of the country.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak urged his people not to be downhearted about the battlefield reverses.
“Don’t let the news that we’ve ceded something scare you,” he said in a video address. “It is clear that tactical maneuvers are ongoing. We cede something, we take something back.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.