Attacks on Mariupol steel plants intensify as Russia seeks to end standoff; The fate of Ukraine’s Donbass is in the balance. Follow our live updates

UK says Russia may use Belarusian military exercises to divert Ukrainian forces

Russia is likely to use surprise military exercises by its ally Belarus as a way to divert Ukrainian forces away from Donbass in eastern Ukraine, the focus of Russian attacks, as it seeks to control the entire region, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense.

“Russia will likely seek to exaggerate the threat these exercises pose to Ukraine in order to reform Ukrainian forces in the north, preventing them from committing to the Battle of Donbass,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update on Twitter this morning. .

And Belarus announced yesterday that it has begun combat readiness exercises, saying that the purpose of the exercises is to “assess the readiness and ability of personnel to quickly respond to potential crises.” The move fueled speculation that Belarus might join the Russian war effort in a possible renewed offensive into northern Ukraine. Belarus insisted there was no threat to its European neighbors.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday that Belarusian ground forces were “seen to spread from the garrison to the field for the exercises” and that this was in keeping with seasonal mores as Belarus enters the culmination of its winter training session in May.

The ministry added that “the deviation from normal activity that could pose a threat to allies and partners is not currently expected.”

Holly Eliat

Russian forces renew their attacks to seize the last stronghold of Ukraine in Mariupol

A destroyed administrative building in the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works Company.

Genghis Kondarov | Reuters

Russian forces have reportedly renewed their assault on the Azovstal steel plant complex, the last stronghold of Ukrainian fighters in the southern port city of Mariupol, in what is widely seen as an attempt to end the standoff.

In the latest update from the Ukrainian military, the military spokesman said that Russian forces are “concentrating their efforts on disrupting and trying to destroy Ukrainian units at the Azovstal steel plants.”

“The enemy has resumed its offensive with the support of aircraft to take control of the plant,” Ukraine said in its Thursday morning update.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information.

Hundreds of civilians, including the elderly and children, are sheltering in a network of tunnels and underground bunkers beneath steel mills. After a number of failed attempts to evacuate civilians, several hundred have been evacuated to a relatively safe area in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhia in recent days.

– Holly Eliat

British government says Russia is bombing civilian targets to ‘weak Ukrainian resolve’

The British government said Wednesday night that Moscow was trying to “weak Ukrainian resolve” by striking civilian targets in Ukraine.

“As Russian operations falter, strikes have continued on non-military targets including schools, hospitals, residential properties and transport hubs, indicating Russia’s willingness to target civilian infrastructure in an effort to weaken Ukrainian resolve,” the MoD said.

A woman feeds her child after being evacuated from Mariupol’s Azovstal Steel Plant to Zaporizhia, Ukraine, on May 3.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The UK Ministry said in an intelligence update Russia’s ground operations are focused on the eastern part of Ukraine, but missile strikes are continuing across the country because Moscow wants to disrupt the Ukrainians’ ability to resupply their forces in the east.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Moscow has repeatedly denied that it has bombed civilian targets, although such attacks are widely documented. Instead, Russia accuses Ukraine of attacking civilian targets.

The British ministry said Russia was attacking cities including Odessa, Kherson and Mariupol in order to seize Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and cut off the sea line of communication and maritime trade.

Watch: Russian forces Infiltration of the steel plant in Mariupol

– Ted Kemp

Zelensky said that more than 340 civilians were evacuated from Mariupol

Mariupol evacuees arrive in Zaporozhye, Ukraine on May 3, 2022 as Russian attacks continue. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly speech that another 344 civilians were evacuated from the city and suburbs of Mariupol on their way to Zaporozhye.

Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Another 344 civilians were evacuated from the city and suburbs of Mariupol on their way to Zaporizhzhya, a city in Ukraine, the President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly speech.

This is the second batch of people rescued from the besieged Ukrainian city after the evacuation of 156 women and children from the Azovstal steel plant who arrived in Zaporizhia on Wednesday.

“They will all get the most nurturing care from our state,” Zelensky said.

Russia’s attempt to seize Mariupol has led to bleak conditions in the city as thousands run out of food, water and medical aid, as civilians and soldiers are holed up in the Azovstal Steel Factory – the last guerrilla stronghold in the heavily bombed city. .

– Chelsea Ong

The Pentagon said Russian forces have largely bogged down in eastern and southern Ukraine

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds a press conference at the Pentagon on May 2, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia. Kirby announced the return of the Pentagon’s public tours as well as provided an update on Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Kevin Deitch | Getty Images

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Russians had made lopsided progress in Ukraine’s Donbass region, after weeks of resupply and repositioning efforts.

“The Russians haven’t made the kind of progress in the Donbass and in the south that we think they want to make,” Kirby said during a daily Pentagon news conference. “We think they are behind schedule. We think it was slow at every turn and they faced heavy Ukrainian resistance,” he added.

Kirby’s comments come as the United States and its allies are rushing to send additional security assistance ahead of what is believed to be a massive surge for Russia in eastern and southern Ukraine. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass $33 billion quickly In additional US security assistance to Ukraine.

Biden’s latest $800 million military aid package was announced on April 21, Eighth of this kind of security assistancebrings the US commitment to $3.4 billion since the Russian invasion in late February.

– Amanda Macias