KHARKIV, Ukraine — Russia plunged into a new chapter of the Ukraine war on Tuesday, intent on capturing the eastern part of the country and crushing Ukrainian defenses without the same blunders that badly damaged Russian forces in the conflict’s initial weeks.
“Another phase of this operation is starting now,” Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia said, as the Russian Defense Ministry announced that its missile and artillery forces had struck hundreds of Ukrainian military targets overnight.
The strikes mainly hit the eastern region known as Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, where pro-Moscow separatists have battled Ukrainian forces since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
The Donbas has now become the stated territorial objective of Russia’s redeployed invasion force along a front that stretches roughly 300 miles, from an area near the northern city of Kharkiv to the besieged southern port of Mariupol, where die-hard Ukrainian defenders ensconced in a sprawling steel plant have repeatedly defied Russian demands to surrender.
rushing to send longer-range weapons including howitzers, antiaircraft systems, anti-ship missiles, armed drones and even tanks — arms that American officials said were designed to thwart the Russian offensive.
Western military experts said the offensive promised to be much more methodical than the blitz-like operation the Kremlin launched Feb. 24 to subjugate Ukraine, which was marked by rapid and ultimately unsuccessful advances of tanks and helicopter assaults deep inside the former Soviet republic.
left thousands of civilians dead or wounded, caused Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, deeply isolated Russia economically because of Western sanctions and turned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia into a pariah who has been described as a war criminal in the United States and Europe.
While there have not yet been any large offensives in the Donbas region, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said in a statement Tuesday that Russian forces were laying the groundwork for a future push: more surface-to-air missile systems have been shuttled to the front to protect important positions and more artillery positions have appeared.