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Russia's Lavrov: Moscow Wants More Territory Than Donbas


In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on July 20, 2022, Russian soldiers fire a mortar from their position at an undisclosed location in Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow wants to capture territory in southern Ukraine beyond the eastern Donbas region where it is currently battling Ukrainian forces for control.

Russia failed in the early stages of its five-month offensive to topple the government of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv, in northern Ukraine. But Lavrov said in a new interview with state media that Russia no longer feels constrained to fighting in the Donbas where Russian separatists have been battling Kyiv’s forces since 2014 when Russia’s seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Russia recently took control of the Luhansk province in the Donbas and is fighting to take over neighboring Donetsk province.

But Lavrov told the state news RT television and RIA Novosti news agency, "Now the geography has changed. It's not just Donetsk and Luhansk, it's Kherson, Zaporizhia, and several other territories. This process is continuing, consistently and persistently.”

Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, said Moscow’s territorial objectives would expand still further if Western countries deliver more long-range missiles to Kyiv.

When it first invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his goal was to demilitarize and “denazify” the country, although Zelenskyy is Jewish. The West and Kyiv said the Russian attack was simply an imperial-style war of expansion.

A month later, when it failed to take Kyiv, Russia claimed its main goal was “the liberation of Donbas." Even as fighting rages daily in Donetsk, Russia has fired dozens of missiles at other Ukrainian cities, killing hundreds of civilians even as it claims it is not targeting non-military sites.

Ukraine has been attacking a strategically important bridge across the Dnieper River in the Kherson region, using U.S.-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers. Russian officials said the bridge has sustained damage but is still open to some traffic. The Russian military would be hard-pressed to keep supplying its forces in the region if the bridge were destroyed.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that U.S. intelligence indicated Russia is “laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Kirby said the areas involved in plans that Russia is reviewing include Kherson, Zaporizhia, and all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

He also urged the U.S. Congress to ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, saying the Biden administration wants to see the two countries “brought into the alliance as soon as possible.”

Both Sweden and Finland broke with longstanding non-alliance positions to seek NATO membership as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its approval Tuesday, setting the stage for a vote in the full Senate.

All of NATO’s 30 member states must approve Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance.

Grain shipments

On the diplomatic front, Putin said Tuesday that Russia was ready to facilitate Ukrainian grain shipments from ports along the Black Sea, but that he wants Western countries to lift their sanctions against Russian grain exports.

Putin spoke in Iran after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about a proposed plan to resume the Ukrainian exports.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted Ukrainian trade, and with pressures on the global food supply, the United Nations has been involved in the talks to unblock the shipments.

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told reporters Tuesday that Guterres remained optimistic that a deal can be completed. He added that Guterres had discussed the ongoing negotiations in a phone call Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Putin also met Tuesday with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, signaling closer links between the two countries.

“The contact with Khamenei is very important,” Yuri Ushakov, Putin's foreign policy adviser, told reporters in Moscow. “A trusting dialogue has developed between them on the most important issues on the bilateral and international agenda.”

“On most issues, our positions are close or identical,” Ushakov said.

As Moscow faces ongoing Western economic sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, Russia is trying to strengthen strategic ties with Iran, China and India.

Iran, also facing Western economic sanctions and ongoing disputes with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program, expressed hope for closer ties with Russia.

“Both our countries have good experience in countering terrorism, and this has provided much security to our region,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said after meeting with Putin. “I hope your visit to Iran will increase cooperation between our two independent countries.”

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that intelligence indicated Russia is “laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Kirby said the areas involved in plans that Russia is reviewing include Kherson, Zaporizhia, and all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

He also urged the U.S. Congress to ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, saying the Biden administration wants to see the two countries “brought into the alliance as soon as possible.”

Both Sweden and Finland broke with longstanding non-alliance positions to seek NATO membership as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations gave its approval Tuesday, setting the stage for a vote in the full Senate.

All of NATO’s 30 member states must approve Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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